In 1893 the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now Preservation Virginia) took ownership of 22.5 acres on the west side of Jamestown Island, the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. Federal funds paid for construction of a seawall to preserve that land and a 103-foot tall Tercentenary Monument to mark the 1907 anniversary of the settlement. In 1934, the National Park Service acquired the remaining 1,500 acres of Jamestown Island, saving it forever from private development. This acquisition forms part of Colonial National Historical Park, along with the Colonial Parkway and portions of Yorktown, VA. At Historic Jamestowne, much of the land is a combination of woods and wetlands, remarkably like the landscape the first settlers would have seen.
The National Park Service has conducted archaeology on the island, ranging from the Works Progress Administration projects of the 1930s to the excavations that prepared for Jamestown’s 350th and 400th anniversaries. J.C. Harrington conducted work in the 1930s and 1940s, and John L. Cotter excavated extensively in the 1950s. A “who’s who” of American archaeology has also participated in excavations for the National Park Service, including Edward B. Jelks, Henry C. Foreman, Louis Caywood, Joel Shiner, Rex Wilson and many others, including experts from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research. In the early 1990s, in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the NPS began their Jamestown Archeological Assessment, a multidisciplinary project that greatly enhanced knowledge of Jamestown’s archaeological resources.
For Jamestown’s 400th anniversary in 2007, the NPS and Preservation Virginia partnered anew under the banner of Historic Jamestowne to incorporate robust interpretations of their properties, collections, and research in brand new museums, exhibits, signage, and interpretation. The NPS and Preservation Virginia Jamestown Rediscovery collections now reside under the same roof at Jamestown, in the Rediscovery Center where each organization maintains their own adjoining labs and storage facilities.
Visitor interest in the site of the original 1607 fort, town of James City, and Virginia’s first capital continues year-round, and the research at Historic Jamestowne has resulted in international attention from scholars and historians, presidents and royalty. In 2019 the partners observed another 400th anniversary, this time of the first representative assembly of lawmakers in English North America (held in a church whose foundations are still visible near James Fort) in 1619 and the arrival that same year of the first Africans in Virginia.