What began as a dream nearly 30 years ago for a handful of folks who envisioned a re-creation of a settlement in Chesterfield County that held the beginnings of a nation, the Henricus Historical Park and nearly 4,000 visitors commemorated its 400th anniversary last weekend during the park’s signature annual event, Publick Days.
During Saturday and Sunday’s activities, visitors were transported back in time through encounters with more than 100 period-dressed historical interpreters portraying 17th-century life in the re-created English and Virginia Indian settlements. Activities included living history re-enactments, English and Virginia Indian weapons demonstrations, craftsmen and blacksmiths, medicinal demonstrations and Virginia Indian and colonial songs and dance. On the bluff overlooking the James River was food and craft vendors and re-enactments of military history from 1781 to 1917. A brief walk to the riverfront allowed visitors to step aboard the Godspeed for a tour of the main deck.
Publick Days, in its 25th year, celebrates the establishment of the second successful English settlement in the “New World.” In September 1611, Sir Thomas Dale, along with soldiers, tradesmen and farmers, ventured from Jamestown to create the Citie of Henricus. Leaders of Henricus developed the first English hospital, chartered the first college in North America, established tobacco as the first cash crop in Virginia, and created a place where Pocahontas lived and met John Rolfe.
Early dreamers, Pauline Mitchell and the former Lt. Governor John Hager, along with a couple of hundred patrons, were in attendance Friday evening to welcome the arrival of the Godspeed, a re-creation of one of the three ships that in 1607 transported America’s first permanent English colonists to Virginia, for Publick Days. “This is just wonderful,” said Mitchell about the celebration. Mitchell was one of the first members of the foundation and continues to be an active board member. Mitchell and the Lt. Governor were trying to remember the exact year when they both stood on the bluff kicking off the foundation’s campaign to re-create the site. “It was 1984 or 1985” said Mitchell.
“I remember us standing up there on the bluff, which was it John?” Lt. Governor Hager, then Vice President of the American Tobacco Company who was one of the first corporate sponsors of the foundation said, “I know it’s been a few years. It was 1984.”
“Four hundred years ago the Citie of Henricus was founded and went on to become an essential cultural landmark in the heritage of the United States of America,” said Charles Lewis Grant, acting executive director. “As a living history museum, our mission is to educate the public about the significant historic milestones which took place at Henricus.”
Throughout the year, general park admission is free for Patrons, $8 for adults and $6 for children aged 3-12. Henricus Historical Park is located on 32 acres along the scenic and historic James River and is surrounded by the 810-acre Dutch Gap Conservation Area, located in the Bermuda District at 251 Henricus Park Rd. For more information, visit www.henricus.org .