Year in review: Colonial Williamsburg

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President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle Obama ring the First Baptist Freedom Bell with 99-year-old Ruth Bonner and her family. Ruth’s father was born into slavery, but escaped to freedom and eventually graduated from medical school. (NMAAHC Live Stream)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama rang the First Baptist Freedom Bell with 99-year-old Ruth Bonner and her family during the Sept. 24 dedication ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Bonner’s father was born into slavery, but escaped to freedom and eventually graduated from medical school. (NMAAHC Live Stream)

 

 

 

This past year was a big one for Colonial Williamsburg. From the president’s announcement of a shift in priorities, with a focus on new initiatives and reorganization, to a record lambing season and the launch of mobile applications, taking history into the digital era, here are seven defining moments for Colonial Williamsburg in 2016. 

Colonial Williamsburg announced layoffs, reorganization

While touting an increase in both attendance and revenue in 2015, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President Mitchell Reiss announced positions would be eliminated as part of a reorganization in a letter to employees on Jan. 21.

The letter outlined Colonial Williamsburg’s plans to refocus on educational initiatives, which will put more emphasis on the Historic Area and its costumed interpreters and other front-line educators, and require the elimination of staff largely “higher up the chain of command” as well as in the Hospitality Division to free up the necessary financial resources for the change. The reorganization was expected to result in a 2.3 percent reduction in the workforce, or about 60 workers, according to past WYDaily coverage.

For more information on the layoffs and reorganization click here.

The restored First Baptist Church bell. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
The restored First Baptist Church bell. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Colonial Williamsburg, First Baptist Church celebrated its history with ‘Let Freedom Ring’ program

The First Baptist Church “Freedom Bell” rang out for the first time in over half a century in February in celebration of Black History Month. The “Let Freedom Ring” programming, from Colonial Williamsburg and First Baptist Church, slated for Black History Month called on locals and visitors to the Historic Triangle to each take a turn at ringing the bell and reflecting on the meaning of freedom and equality.

The “Freedom Bell” even made it to the Sept. 24 dedication ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., where President Obama and his family rang the bell. For more information about the ringing of the First Baptist Church bell click here. For more information on the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s dedication ceremony click here.

An interpreter fires a replica "Brown Bess” musket like those used in the American Revolution. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
An interpreter fires a replica “Brown Bess” musket like those used in the American Revolution. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Colonial Williamsburg musket range opening brought revolutionary experience to visitors

Colonial Williamsburg’s musket range celebrated its grand opening March 19, giving visitors  the opportunity to operate a firearm under the instruction of a costumed expert for the first time in the living museum’s history.

“For decades our guests could learn about these pieces and watch them being operated,” said Peter Seibert, Colonial Williamsburg director of historic trades and skills. “Now they can really experience them – the weight, the smell, and the sound – not to mention how challenging their operation was for people whose lives often depended on it.”

For more information on the musket range click here.

The lambing season was a huge success this year at Colonial Williamsburg. (Photo by Aine Cain)
The lambing season was a huge success this year at Colonial Williamsburg. (Aine Cain/WYDaily)

Record lambing season at Colonial Williamsburg, and the passing of a ‘beloved’ lamb

Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg may have found themselves counting sheep in the spring, with good reason. Elaine Shirley, the historic park’s manager of rare breeds, said that this past year’s lambing season produced a record 24 lambs. Lambing season ran smoothly, despite a late start and such a large group of lambs, she said.

Colonial Williamsburg reported in August the death of a little lamb named Edmund who was born with congenital defects. Edmund had become a small internet sensation when Colonial Williamsburg published a video of the lamb being bottle-fed by staff after he was rejected by his mother.

For more information about the lambs click here.

Colonial Williamsburg opened doors with free access to digital library

Students, teachers and lifelong learners across the globe now have access to the educational resources of Colonial Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Education Resource Library, which includes educational videos and supporting course content, was made available free online beginning Aug. 16. The digital library contains 800 minutes of video, background texts, primary source media, and more than 100 lesson plans. The database is open to the general public in an effort by Colonial Williamsburg to provide more information on United States history from the Jamestown settlement until the end of the Civil War. For more information about the digital library click here.

Aspiring master Pokemon trainers take a break from the tour to catch wild Pokemon. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)
Aspiring master Pokemon trainers took a break from a Colonial Williamsburg tour to catch wild Pokemon. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

Pokemon GO turned Colonial Williamsburg into an augmented reality hub

Colonial Williamsburg opened its gates to an estimated 400 Pokemon GO players in August as trained guides led guests on a Pokemon-themed tour of the historic grounds. A location-based, augmented reality video game, Pokemon GO transformed perceptions about mobile technology and drove its players to explore their respective communities in search of elusive Pokemon.

“When the game first came out, hundreds of people came out to play,” said Jess Ross, the social media content strategist who planned the Pokemon GO event at Colonial Williamsburg.  “They’re here, so why not use this as an opportunity to teach about history?”

For more information about Pokemon GO at Colonial Williamsburg click here.

Colonial Williamsburg mascot Liberty rests after playing with trainer Adam Claar. (Steve Roberts, Jr/WYDaily)
Colonial Williamsburg mascot Liberty rests after playing with trainer Adam Claar. (Steve Roberts, Jr/WYDaily)

Colonial Williamsburg released a new mobile app

Colonial Williamsburg unveiled a new mobile application in October that allows guests to navigate the Revolutionary City using 21st-century tools. The free application includes features such as wayfinding, further information on places and locations, a “Colonial Camera” which provides users with colonial-themed photo overlays, and the ability to meet up with their favorite Colonial Williamsburg figures such as Liberty the dog or other historical figures.

“Guests visit the Revolutionary City to immerse themselves in the 18th century, yet they still look to their mobile devices to guide them and enrich their experiences,” said Colonial Williamsburg’s Executive Director of Marketing Andrea Sardone in a press release. “We listened to what they want, and we’re confident this new app will add fun and efficiency to an authentic trip back in time.”

For more information on the application click here.