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The Dickinsons’ Revisit Colonial Williamsburg

The Dickinson family, Williamsburg. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

The Dickinson family, Williamsburg. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

No, “rochambeau” is not an exotic drink, and a “cooper” doesn’t refer to a family member of my next door neighbor, or that small little automobile now on the market. My wife and I learned the true meanings of those expressions upon our 1970’s visit to historical Williamsburg, Virginia.

We currently have six grandchildren, and gift giving has become increasingly challenging for us older retirees, especially with the ever evolving electronic gadgetry on the market. So the idea of sharing more of our national heritage seemed logical, and we decided a bit of American history in a colonial setting would be fun. And it was—for all 13 of us.

The idea came from Military Living®’s R&R Travel News® (Nov–Dec 2013 Issue) describing military supported vacation opportunities near Williamsburg, VA. The U.S. Navy’s Cheatham Annex (CAX) is a Naval Weapons Station but also a recreation site located just 6 miles from the historic district. It’s available for vacation use by holders of a military ID card, active, reserve, or retired, who can serve as the sponsor for family and guests and their activities.

The summer months obviously, see most of the site’s available activities get heavy usage: golf, swimming pool, boat, kayak and canoe rentals, bike rentals, and fishing (three freshwater lakes, plus a saltwater pier). Even for simply a getaway camping opportunity, there are RV sites and cabins in wooded areas.

We began our mini vacation plan in late summer by contacting the Outdoors and Cottages Office at (757) 887-7224 for reservations in late December. We had concluded the days between Christmas and New Years were most accommodating to our schedules. (Be aware there is a minimum stay requirement of six nights in the summer, but only two night minimums in winter months. A Navy Gateway Inn is also on site should a length-of stay need to be more accommodating.)

Cottage at Cheatham Annex. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

Cottage at Cheatham Annex. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

The cottage we received was actually a two-section town house (with connecting door) beside the river, once living quarters for two military families. The weeknight rate was $109 per section, and it suited our family group perfectly! With two available kitchens and dining areas, we had two leisurely meals per day in quarters and the third on the fly. Food rations were most available from a huge Target store about a mile outside the gate, although there is a small NEX/Shoppette on base. Another food option was the 4th Street Grill on Base that service personnel and contract workers patronize for breakfast and lunch.

Dickinson Family at Shield's Tavern. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

Dickinson Family at Shield’s Tavern. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

We reserved one evening for period dining at Shield’s Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street. Entertainment during the meal was provided by a roving balladeer and his string music. The scrumptious meal and tavern experience was definitely a trip highlight. Our 5pm dinner reservation allowed us to complete the meal and meet the nightly Tavern Ghost Walk that was assembling now on the darkened cobbled-stone street (much covered with asphalt now for safe walking). Two guides led this lantern tour and provided the ghost tales associated with the old buildings of this 18th-century Revolutionary City. The youngsters in our family considered this evening adventure as “The Best”!

Dickinson Grandchildred at Williamsburg. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

Dickinson grandchildren at Williamsburg. Photo courtesy of James Dickinson.

Actually, the Visitor’s Center in the historic area is the obvious place to identify sightseeing options—some free and for others there is a fee. But seeing “The Patriot” movie at the Center, then taking the free shuttle bus to Duke of Gloucester Street, one immediately steps into the 1700s where re-enactors in period attire, take you back to that time. One is free to roam around and step into “shops of old.” And we all did just that. Mary Dickinson’s Ladies Hat Shop quickly became a favorite, as one could also buy period clothing there. Regrettably, we missed seeing “the cooper” making wooden kegs and barrels from slats of wood.

The CAX Outdoors Office can also issue discounted admission tickets to Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, and Water World USA, which is adjacent to the entrance road (Hwy 199) into Cheatham Annex. We were surprised to learn that Busch Gardens was still operating (on a reduced schedule during the holidays, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.)

Within a few miles of Williamsburg, are the historical sites of the Jamestown settlement, and Yorktown, where French General Rochambeau assisted General Washington in defeating the British Army in 1781. But we decided those visits were for a future trip to Virginia.

On the final day/night of our stay, we agreed on relocating to The Great Wolf Lodge (basically a huge hotel, along I-64 N. with an indoor aquatic complex open year around). This finale stretched the budget a bit, but everyone had fun and a memorable experience to share back home!

*(I had not previously encountered the security level Cheatham Annex was requiring, but complied just the same. In addition to standard vehicle information, they now wanted full names and SS numbers for background checks on all visitors, ages 18 and over. Information was to arrive at their location 5 days prior to guest’s arrival at the Annex. In all, our totals were 4 vehicles and 7 adults. Security contact is 757-887-7338.)

James E. Dickinson COL (USA Ret.) and Barbara Dickinson Wilmington, DE

Reprint from Mar–Apr 2015 • Volume 45, No. 2


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