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Hampton Roads: A Quantum Leap
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Hampton Roads: A Quantum Leap
  Hampton Roads Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

virginia_hampton210.jpg Hampton Roads, Virginia: a place where, as if caught in a magical Quantum Leap, one minute you are strolling on the streets of the 1700's, the next minute you are examining a three-billion-year-old moon rock in a high-tech science center. It's a place where settlements like Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton are not just pictures in a history school book.

The town of Hampton is the first continuous English-speaking settlement in America; however, almost no structures exist that were built before the civil war. That's because the Hamptonians set their town on fire, including burning St. John's Parish ( the oldest English-speaking Anglican Parish in continuous service in America ), to keep it out of the hands of the Yankees during the civil war. Only the blackened walls of the now-restored church and brick chimneys of the houses survived the fire.

Despite the massive destruction, downtown Hampton feels like it has been around in the days of Blackbeard. The only building that looks appropriately futuristic is the Virginia Air & Space Center. It sits on the bay overlooking a panoramic view of Hampton Roads. Made of glass and steel, it doesn't look out of place on the rustic waterfront among yachts, a lobster factory, the brick-red Radisson Hotel, and an eye-catching gaily-painted 1920 carousel.

Displays inside the space center honor America's first astronauts-- Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Shepard and others who trained in Hampton at Langley Research Center, the original NASA.

There is so much history here. Blackbeard's head was mounted on a pole as a warning to other pirates in Chesapeake Bay. Fort Wool, in the same area, is a fort whose construction was supervised by Robert. E. Lee. Fort Monroe ( held captive by the Yankees after Hampton seceded from the Union during the civil war ), was where runaway slaves were given sanctuary. Edgar Allen Poe was a sergeant major at the fort and Robert E Lee reported for duty there.

In Yorktown (the site of the last major battle of the revolution in 1781) and Victory Center, museums unfold the chronicle of events that lead up to and include the final British surrender. At the Jamestown site ( England's first permanent colony in the New World ), there's a reconstructed settlement fashioned after the one founded in 1607. That was thirteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and nearly a century before Williamsburg became the capital of colonial Virginia!

But it's not all history and the past. A modern shopping and eateries complex called The Waterside and a park skirts the harbor. The park hosts festivals, concerts and outdoor parties year round and keeps the business community downtown after hours. It's a good example of how planners who understand the importance of mixing business with pleasure can stop major cities from becoming ghost towns come nightfall and weekends.

Exploring Hampton Road is like flipping through a lifesize book of time.

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