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Even Colonial Williamsburg is changing ... gracefully.

One pleasure of a visit to Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg comes from seeing time's winged chariot slowed to a stately crawl: the 173-acre living museum appears as changeless as a Georgian fasade.

In fact, Colonial Williamsburg does change, but perhaps more gracefully than most other places. It's added more attractions in recent years than at any time since its initial restoration in the 1930s.

The most lavish of the additions is the $17-million DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery, opened in 1985. It's a sly treasure behind a treasure. You enter through the Public Hospital, modeled on one finished in 1773. From there, you descend to the gallery, an airy 62,000 square feet of display space sunk beneath and behind the hospital.(its modern style was permitted because the gallery proper lies just outside the Colonial Williamsburg boundary.)

On view are several mansions' worth of sofas, bookcases, chest-on-chests, and other furnishings; silver, pewter, porcelain, paintings, and prints-6,000 objects in all, dating from 1600 to 1830. Many are, well, on the upscale side, such as the 18th-century royal governor's chair flanked by portraits of two opposing Georges: England's George Ill and America's first president.

But the more workaday products of colonial craftsmen-clocks, watches, firearms, and tools-tend to impress the modern eye as much as the luxuries. And a few kitschy knickknacks prove, thankfully, that not every colonist possessed impeccable early American taste.

Hour-long guided tours run at 1:30 and 3:30 daily. If you get tired of objectgazing, head up to the roof garden; it may remind Californians of the terraces of the Oakland Museum-an earlier work by this gallery's architect, Kevin Roche. Hours are 10 to 6 daily. Admission is $6.50 or can be included in Colonial Williamsburg ticket packages. The gallery cafe is open 10 to 5 daily.

Before or after your visit, spend a few minutes on the sobering but interesting exhibits at the Public Hospital, America's first mental hospital.

At the southeast corner of town lies another new attraction, 18th-century Bassett Hall. It honors John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who spearheaded the original restoration.

Looking much as it did when the Rockefellers took up residence in 1936, Bassett Hall shows off collections of porcelain, Oriental rugs, and American folk art. The house tour lasts 40 minutes. Leave time afterward to explore the grounds: allees artfully framed by Virginia verdure shape long green views well insulated from tourist clamor.

Bassett Hall is open from 10 to 5 daily. Tours must be reserved the day of your visit; sign up at the visitor center, or call (804) 229-1000, ext. 4119. Admission of $5.50 can also be included in packages. Handsome Carter's Grove and stark Wolstenholme Towne

Eight miles southeast of Williamsburg stands the impressive plantation house of Carter's Grove and the archeological mecca Wolstenholme Towne. Restoration' and digging have gone on here for a decade. Now a new visitor center explains the three centuries of American history that played out on these bluffs above the James River.

From Colonial Williamsburg, the area is best reached by the leisurely 8-mile drive on The Country Road, a pine-shaded ride that replicates the experience of traveling to an 18th-century plantation, At the Carter's Grove visitor center (at road's end), you can view exhibits on the development of plantation life, and watch a 20minute movie.

From there, you walk 1/4 mile south toward Wolstenholme Towne. Founded in 1618, it succumbed to Indian attacks four years later. A visit is a useful reminder that not every attempt at colonization succeeded.

The outlines of Wolstenholme's buildings-including the fort, the oldest British timber defense work thus far fully excavated in North America-are suggested by wood framing. Recorded talks recount the story of the beleaguered settlement, and the archeological detective work that rescued it from oblivion.

Now, head back up the hill, skipping 137 years in the process. In 1755, when Wolstenholme Towne was but a dim memory on the land, wealthy planter Carter Burwell built this red brick Georgian mansion and named it Carter's Grove. The gracefully proportioned home and its gardens are now open for tours.

Hours at Carter's Grove and Wolstenholme Towne are 9 to 5 daily Admission is $6.50 or can be included in Williamsburg ticket packages. Tour the Carter's Grove gardens on your own, or join a 1 -hour tour at 10:30; for required reserva
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Title Annotation:Virginia
Date:Sep 1, 1988
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