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 Tercentennary 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. The acquisition, along with the Colonial Parkway and portions of Yorktown, VA, makes up Colonial National Historical Park. 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 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 have 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 and 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 approach that greatly enhanced knowledge of their archaeological resources and massive collections. Preservation Virginia initiated its Jamestown Rediscovery Project to search for the 1607 fort site, long thought lost to the James River, but now ‘rediscovered’ and the subject of ongoing research.
Both the NPS and PV partnered anew for the 2007 anniversary to incorporate robust interpretations of their properties, collections and research in brand new museums, exhibits, signage and interpretation, together under the banner of “Historic Jamestowne.” The NPS and PV Jamestown Rediscovery Collections now reside under the same roof at Jamestown, in the Rediscovery Center where each organization maintains their own labs and storage facilities.
Visitor interest in the site of the original 1607 fort, James City townsite, and Virginia’s first capital continues year round, and interest in the research at Historic Jamestowne has resulted in international attention from scholars and historians, presidents and royalty. The work continues as the partners prepare for another 400th anniversary, this time of the 1619 first representative assembly of lawmakers in English North America (held in a church whose foundations are still visible near James Fort) and the arrival the same year of the first Africans in Virginia.