Werowocomoco: A Powhatan Place of Power
Source: National Park Service
In 2014, the National Park Service added Werowocomoco to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The site was still private property, so identifying the site did not authorize public visitation.
The Federal agency then purchased the site in 2016, paying $7.1 million for 260 acres. The private landowners retained the right to stay for the rest of their lives there, and local officials acknowledged that opening the site for public visits would require several years of planning.
the first National Park Service maps of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail omitted the site of Werowocomoco (red X), since it was not open for public visits
Source: National Park Service, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
The National Park Service planned archeological surveys and excavations before development of trails, parking, and buildings. Local officials understood the priority of research and that public visits would not start immediately, but were excited about the possible increase in tourism. They saw the potential of attracting visitors from all over the world:1
The Native American community had a different angle on the opening of Werowocomoco to public visits. Few Native American sites have been supported by the state for heritage tourism, in contrast to places associated with English colonization, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. For the very first families of Virginia, Werowocomoco is an opportunity to raise consciousness about the people who occupied Virginia for 15-20,000 years before three ships sailed up what the original residents called the Powhatan River in 1607:2
to minimize erosion and potential loss of archeological resources at Werowocomoco, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences built a living shoreline in 2016
Source: Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, Werowocomoco Living Shoreline Project Information Sheet
The Conservation Fund purchased the 643-acre Timberneck Farm, using funds for mitigation of the Surry-Skiffes Creek Transmission Line Project across the James River. Powhatan's Chimney, once thought to mark the location of Werowocomoco, was on the opposite side of Timberneck Creek. The 690-acre Catlett Islands unit of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve was located just to the west of Timberneck Farm.
Timberneck Farm was adjacent to Catlett Islands and near Powhatan's Chimney
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The Conservation Fund initiated the planning for the site, prior to transfer to the state in 2020 for use as Machicomoco State Park. The two most-recent state parks had required 13 years between acquisition and opening. The state used 2002 bond money to purchase 432 acres downstream from Timberneck Farm on the York River in Gloucester County to establish Middle Peninsula State Park, but the land stayed closed to the public. Machicomoco State Park, just downstream of the site of Middle Peninsula State Park, was able to open first.
The state had been outbid in its first effort to purchase Timberneck Farm, and developers planned to build 47 expensive houses. When that project was delayed due to economic reasons, the Conservation Fund stepped in. The Gloucester Board of Supervisors supported converting the private land into Machicomoco State Park. Moving private property into state ownership would bring and end to payment of real estate taxes to the county, but local officials anticipated more economic benefits from increased tourism than from the planned housing development.
The Conservation Fund transferred the property to the state in 2020. Virginia State Parks planned for Machicomoco State Park to serve as a "gateway" to Werowocomoco to provide public interpretation and recreational facilities for visitors. The director of the state parks system noted when Machicomoco State Park opened in 2021:3
Attracting visitors to the state park allowed the National Park Service to minimize disturbance of the historic site at Werowocomoco. "The Algonquian Landscape of Tsenacommacah" was chosen to be the overarching theme of the new state park, and in his dedication speech at the opening of the park Chickahominy Tribal Chief Stephen Adkins said:4
Machicomoco State Park is about 10 miles downstream from Werowocomoco
Source: Virginia State Parks, Middle Peninsula State Park: Timberneck Unit Information Session (June 6, 2018)
Machicomoco State Park offered an impressive vista of the York River
Source: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Timberneck Farm Design Development (November 18, 2018)