Headed south through Virginia, if you get off the Interstate, time starts to do funny things. In King George County, laid out in the miles between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, farms roll like cresting waves across the warm land. The high tawny grass sways, showing you the very shape of the wind. Barns are dressed in faded vintage advertisements beside white farmhouses wrapped in large, lazy porches; rocking chairs upon them seem to be standard. It’s easy to imagine lemonade tasting better in the porch shade than anywhere else. Things seem slower, simpler, like 60 years have rolled back.
Across the Rappahannock, cruising down the Peninsula toward the coast, you enter tall pine forests. I don’t think they’re virgin, but they might as well be for their height. Time seems to have marched you back even further here, to a time before European settlers, and it’s not difficult to imagine a Powhatan hunter stalking deer in the shadow of the woods. And, now that your path has erased the last 400 years, you arrive in a part of America perfectly situated to bring you gently back to our own present time, all the while illuminating the basic of foundations upon which that present sits. They call this part of the country: The Historic Triangle.
The first corner to explore is Jamestowne. This is not where the first arrival of English occurred, but was the first place where a savage continent did not quickly slaughter them all. A National Park, Jamestowne, through reconstructions and archaeological digs, goes so far as to show you the very bones of the first settlers, illustrating the fortitude of those who spent months on small ships before arriving in a wilderness with little but their own spirit and muscle. Imagine our country stripped free of all that we have spent centuries building: no roads, no hotels for our weary travelers, no markets, no stores of convenience, just these explorers on the edge of an empty continent.
Or, maybe, it wasn’t so empty. Alongside the early fort reconstruction and brick foundations of the buildings where American democracy was incubated, the story of those natives who came before, 10,000 years before, is told. These natives had the challenge of their own wars, politics, and economics before the arrival of Europeans. The clash of these two civilizations is the clash of a millennia. Of course, we know how things turned out for the natives. Their civilization is gone, but here, at this place, their memory is not forgotten.
In less than a century, the first Virginia settlers tamed the wilderness. Their farms and plantations reached far inland.The second point of the Historic Triangle masterfully tells the story of this next chapter of colonial advance. Williamsburg is the finest recreation, by far, of life in 18th Century America; an entire town restored to its colonial appearance replete with costumed townsfolk, portraying both free and enslaved people, who interpret the lives as lived by our forebearers. You expect at any moment young men with names like Jefferson and Washington to turn a corner. Few places in the world will make you feel more lost to another time than here.
America grew into its own in bustling towns like Williamsburg all up and down the east coast. It grew until ties to the old world across the ocean became less necessary, becoming, in many ways, a hindrance to our nation’s continuing growth. The revolution, which freed us from our mother country, is played out both in Williamsburg and the third corner of the Historic Triangle: Yorktown. Yorktown was the site of the last great battle of the American Revolution where General Washington and his Continental Army, along with more than a little help from the French (viva la liberte), defeated General Lord Cornwallis and his Redcoats. Our nation is born.
Of course, your time traveling has only brought you half the way back to the present but, as you return north through interior Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the rest of the story becomes complete in places like Mannassas where the Civil War began. In places like Antietam and Gettysburg, where America was never so bloody. The Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C will finish off your return to the present. Here you can be industrialized, electrified, taken to the moon and mystified.
No. Mankind has not yet built a machine to travel back in time, but who needs one when you have an automobile and the American roads. Do yourself a favor and get out on them once in a while. You can never be sure where, OR WHEN, you might end up.