Colonial National Historical Park | YORKTOWN BATTLEFIELD VISITOR CENTER

Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center

Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center

GENERAL INFORMATION

The Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center is situated where the left flank of the British inner defenses was located. The defensive trenches ran from here all the way to Yorktown and were anchored by the York River on both the east and west ends.

The Visitor Center is a stop on the route of a free trolley bus that loops through the historic and business districts of Yorktown. You can get off and on at any stop. The bus typically runs from mid-March through the end of December, though days and hours vary per season. See the Visit Yorktown Virginia’s Trolley and Parking web page for a schedule and stop locations.

Yorktown Trolley picks up visitors at the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center

Yorktown Trolley picks up visitors at the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center

OPERATING HOURS

The Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

AMENITIES

  • Pay park entrance fee here
  • Ranger-staffed information desk where you can pick up a free park brochure and other information
  • Posted daily Ranger-led tour and lecture schedule
  • Stop on the free Yorktown trolley that takes you to the downtown and historic areas of Yorktown
  • Purchase a CD Audio Tour for the Yorktown Battlefield
  • Museum
  • Book and souvenir store
  • Artillery exhibits are just outside the front entrance
  • Picnic area just outside
  • Restrooms
Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center information desk

Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center information desk

Yorktown Battlefield book and souvenir store

Yorktown Battlefield book and souvenir store

PARK FILM

The 15-minute film entitled The Siege of Yorktown shows on the hour and half hour. The film is about the Battle of Yorktown and features real actors and battle scenes, though the viewer is spared the blood and guts—soldiers fall down dead, but they die a bloodless death. I’d rate it somewhere between G and PG, good for any child who understands what war and death are. The film does a good job of explaining the battle, and I highly recommend watching it before heading out to explore the battlefield.

The film is shown in an auditorium that has stadium seating. The screen is small, but at least nobody sitting in front of you will block your view. Yorktown is a major battlefield tourist attraction on par with a place like Gettysburg, so expect large crowds during the tourist season, including at the theater.

MUSEUM

There is a large museum at the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center, but it doesn’t take as much time to go through as you would expect because some of the exhibits are huge. For example, you can walk through a partial reconstruction of a British 44-gun frigate, the Charon, which was sunk at Yorktown in 1781 and later salvaged. Another exhibit that takes up quite a lot of space is one of George Washington’s tents. Washington kept his tents, and they were passed down among relatives.

Guns of the British frigate Charon

Guns of the British frigate Charon

The museum exhibits are based around artifacts found on the battlefield and not on a timeline of events. Going back to the Washington tent example, the exhibit is not strictly about that particular tent, but about tents and other equipment used by the soldiers during the Revolution. As a result, the museum does not tell a coherent story of the Battle of Yorktown. I assume the idea is that you should watch the park film first so you know about the battle details. The museum just fills you in on specialized subject matters such as tents, flags, the regiments that fought at Yorktown, slave participation in the fighting, etc. It is very similar to the museum at Jamestown where each exhibit is a different topic concerning Jamestown, not a chronological recounting of events.

British Regimental flag captured at Yorktown

British Regimental flag captured at Yorktown

When you first enter the Visitor Center you will see what is known as the Lafayette Gun. This was confiscated from the British at Yorktown by the Marquis de Lafayette and his men, but was lost in the shuffle. Lafayette later recognized the gun at the Watervliet Arsenal in New York in 1824. It was identified by a dent in the barrel. The gun was later used to fire a salute at his funeral in 1834. It has since become a museum curiosity piece.

Lafayette Gun

Lafayette Gun

There is an animated map program that goes through the battle step-by-step. A video goes along with it, making it a shortened version of the park film. If you missed the film, then definitely check out the map program. It lasts about five minutes and begins on demand with the push of a button.

Battle of Yorktown animated map program

Battle of Yorktown animated map program

There is a separate Children’s Exhibit on the upper level. This tells the story of the Battle of Yorktown from a child’s perspective and is designed to teach the history to younger visitors. There is not much to it, as the exhibits are mainly audio programs.

Children's area of the museum at Yorktown Battlefield

Children’s area of the museum at Yorktown Battlefield

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

You should definitely catch the park film before heading out to explore the battlefield so you understand what you are looking at—there’s fifteen minutes of your time. If you want to see and read all of the information at the museum, plan to spend another hour. Of course most people will breeze right through, maybe spending fifteen minutes. Thus, plan to spend at least a half hour at the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center and up to 1.5 hours if you are really into the history of the battle.

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Last updated on April 6, 2020
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