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The 2024 Annual Meeting at Colonial Williamsburg – History, Fun, and Spring Weather in Virginia!

Over the past 90 years the Early American Industries Association has held its Annual Meeting at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia on multiple occasions. It is without a doubt one of the most popular places for EAIA’s Annual Meeting. This year’s meeting at Colonial Williamsburg on April 24 thru April 27th was a great event in a wonderful location! 149 EAIA members registered for the meeting. Tailgating began in the parking lot before noon on Wednesday April 24th. Despite a little light rain early in the afternoon, the parking lot adjacent to the Woodlands hotel was busy for the entire afternoon with members greeting each other and sealing the deal on one or more of those special tools that were waiting for them. On Thursday we started the day with a visit to three archeological sites at Colonial Williamsburg. Custis Square is a rich archeologic site that is currently being explored by the archeologists at Colonial Williamsburg. It was the site of a home built by John Custis and was surrounded by formal gardens. John’s widow, Martha inherited the property after her husband’s death and later became George Washington’s wife. The second site was the First Baptist Church, site of the first black church in the America colonies. The site has been explored by the Colonial Williamsburg archeology department and the foundation of the original church building and multiple graves have been discovered on the site. Eventually a replica of the original building will be constructed and will be used to help interpret the history of the church and the enslaved people who worshipped there. The third site was the Bray school which was the first school in North America established to educate enslaved black children. The original school building is being restored and will also enrich the story of enslaved people in the American colonies. The archeologists and crafts workers who were on site for our tours did a marvelous job of helping us learn about these interesting sites. We had a box lunch at the museum cafeteria and then spent time exploring the recently opened art museums of Williamsburg. The Dewitt Wallace Museum of Fine Art and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum are both located in a single building. Both the museums are amazing with incredible exhibits displayed in beautiful surroundings. These two museums alone are well worth a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. At 3PM on Thursday twenty of the Colonial Williamsburg trade shops were closed to the public so that EAIA members had a chance for exclusive “hands on” experiences in these shops. It was a unique opportunity to try our hand at some of the early American trades with the help of the skilled trades people who work in these shops. We all got to experience two different trades. It was very interesting and lots of fun! Thursday evening, we enjoyed our annual ice cream social followed by the “Whatsits” session. We managed to identify a fair number of the tools, but several left us all scratching our heads. EAIA members Ruby Englund and John McMillan received a special certificate of appreciation from EAIA in honor of their contributions of tools that are part of the permanent collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Ruby and her late husband Dave donated over two hundred woodworking planes produced by Francis Nicholson, John Nicholson, and Cesar Chelor to Colonial Williamsburg. John’s father Billy McMillan and Billy’s wife Judy donated a comprehensive collection of early American tin smithing tools that help tell the story of the tin smithing trade in America. During the day on Friday EAIA members again had a chance to “go behind the scenes” at the Colonial Williamsburg Collections and Conservation Center. Erik Goldstein, Senior Curator of Mechanical Arts & Numismatics at Colonial Williamsburg described the building as Williamsburg’s Fort Knox because it houses so many valuable items that are part of the Colonial Williamsburg collection. We got to see the woodworking planes and the tin smithing tools donated by EAIA members and in one session and then Neil Hurst, Curator of Textiles and Historic Dress at Colonial Williamsburg wowed us with a look at multiple drawers full of amazing needle working tools in the textile area of the Collections and Conservation Center. Both of these special tours were one of the highlights of the meeting. The rest of the day we spent more time exploring Colonial Williamsburg, revisited the museums, and enjoyed the spring weather in Virginia. Saturday morning was filled with tool trading and some wonderful displays. There were 30 tables filled with tools and wonderful displays put together by EAIA members. Everyone enjoyed the displays and lots of people went home with treasures form the tool sales. In the early evening on Saturday, we all gathered for hors d’Oeuvre and the Silent Auction. EAIA members and some of the staff at Colonial Williamsburg donated lots of wonderful items for the Silent Auction. Bidding was lively and helped to raise over $5,000 for EAIA. The catering staff provided us with a wonderful banquet and we capped off the evening with a talk on surveying by George Washington. Friendships were renewed, new friends were made, and we all came away with some new knowledge and appreciation for the history embodied in Colonial Williamsburg. We look forward to next year’s meeting in Rochester, New York. We hope you’ll come and join us there next May! Paul Van Pernis

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