A “new since the last time I was there” program at Colonial Williamsburg was a two hour behind the scenes tour. I’d been on behind-the-scenes tours of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina and would recommend both, highly. Monticello and the Biltmore took us upstairs (and in the case of the Biltmore, also below stairs), where the regular tours don’t go, and it was exciting to explore the Jefferson family’s initmate spaces, and to wander through the unending vastness of of the largest privately held house in the US.
Our Williamsburg behind-the-scenes tour started at the Governor’s Palace coach house. It’s accessible to anyone with a regular ticket. Our “extra” was an extended presentation on one of the coaches — newly acquired and rare. I wish I could tell you more — or any, really — of the story we were told about it, but the fact is: I don’t remember it. It was interesting enough at the time, but not particularly memorable.
My favorite part of the tour came next: we went into the palace and up some steep servants stairs accessed via a hidden door off the entry hall. We ended up (huff puff huff puff) on the third floor, just under the cupola. The point of taking us up there was to show us the quality of CW’s reconstructions/renovations: they are historically accurate throughout the buildings, even in areas that visitors would never see.
Then we were taken to a room used as meeting space (wait a minute … does that look like office carpeting to you?) where we got a half-an-hour on the history of Colonial Williamsburg, illustrated with photos from the mid 20th century.
After the palace, we went next door to the circa 1726 Robert Carter House, built by Robert “King” Carter. Carter was said to have been the wealthiest man in Virginia. The house isn’t open to the public, but is used for conservation research.
Our final stop was on the property of the 1715 Peyton Randolph House but, alas, not in the house itself. We were taken upstairs in one of the dependencies, a late 1990s reconstruction (as are all of the Peyton Randolph dependencies). It was a plain, empty space where we got another extended talk on … something I don’t remember.
The behind-the-scenes tour was not, in my opinion, worth the $75 price. For me, there was too much time standing (or sitting) in a modern office, or a drab reconstruction, being talked-to, and not enough time touring.
If you do decide to do it, be aware that there are two separate behind-the-scenes tours: one that features the east side of town (anchored by the Capitol Building) and the one that I did, on the west side (anchored by the Governor’s Palace). I don’t know what determines which is conducted, so if you have your heart set on seeing one or the other, I’d ask which tour they’re featuring before you buy the ticket.