GLOUCESTER — A permanent exhibit in Gloucester County gives an up-close look at Werowocomoco.
Werowocomoco is an archaeological site in Gloucester that served as the headquarters of Algonquian leader Chief Powhatan when the English settlers founded Jamestown over 400 years ago.
The site of the first meetings between Native leaders and English colonists was acquired and permanently protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2016 as part of the Chesapeake Trail.
Katey Legg, director of Gloucester Parks, Recreation & Tourism, said that the project has been fully funded as a grant through NPS.
Plans on the project began in early 2018 after NPS awarded a $60,000 grant.
While the site property itself is not open to the public and might not be for some time, the visitor center was chosen as the permanent location for the Werowocomoco exhibit due to its daily attendance volume.
“We wanted to tell this story of the discovery of Werowocomoco,” Legg said. “And we also wanted it to be impactful and have a little bit of that ‘wow’ factor. And that’s a lot to ask for $60,000.”
NPS agreed to expand the funding to another $60,000.
The team behind the exhibit worked with a contractor out of Richmond to develop this $120,000 project.
Part of the exhibit was opened to the public by November 2019 to coincide with the visitor center’s celebration of Pocohontas.
Walking into the first part of the exhibit, visitors are greeted by an etched glass entrance and a two-and-a-half minute long video from NPS about the discovery of Werowocomoco and the continued research on it.
It also features a lenticular image of Pocahontas.
Similar to a holograph, the lenticular image is several images on a multifaceted medium, so that depending on where the viewers stand, they are seeing a different image of Pocohantas.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck a few months after the exhibit’s opening, it was temporarily closed until the summer.
During that time, fabrications were made to the exhibit, and it was fully completed by March 2021.
Along with the welcome video and lenticular image of Pocahontas, visitors can now walk around the perimeter of the room and see archeological artifacts from the Werowocomoco site, which are on loan from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).
What makes this exhibit unique is the addition of touch screens that display 3D images of the artifacts, allowing visitors to zoom in, zoom out, or see a 360 degree view of the artifacts, while learning more about each of the pieces.
The exhibit also features a push-button graphic timeline of Virginia Indian History.
As guests leave the exhibit, they will get a feel of being in a traditional longhouse as well as see a replica of the Powhatan’s mantle.
“When someone walks into this room, they’re essentially transported,” Legg said. “It’s a really phenomenal exhibit and I’m really proud of it.”
Legg said that children like her 10-year-old son, who just learned about Virginia history in his fourth grade class, will especially benefit from this exhibit.
“Talking about and teaching about a place in history that you can’t see, especially in that age group, can be so difficult,” she said. “With the 3D scanning and touch screen, they’re able to touch history, and that’s really cool and so impactful at that age.”
Legg looks forward to field trips and guests who come in from out of town to continue to visit the center and learn more about this important piece of Gloucester’s history.
“We’ve joked for years that we need to be the ‘Historic Quadrangle,’ because there’s a lot of history over here,” she said.
Legg said that the question most often asked from visitors is if they can visit the site, and, though NPS purchased the property a few years ago, there is not yet a clear timeline of when the property will be open to the public.
Until then, visitors can get a feel for being at the site in the state-of-the-art exhibit.
“There is no other exhibit like it in Gloucester,” Legg said. “We’ve got some truly unique elements here.”
For more information on the exhibit, visit here.