Even on a cold weekday afternoon, the Bruton Parish Shop and Heritage Center is packed with visitors. A wing of the store has been repurposed into a miniature museum, which displays artifacts and information collected from more than three centuries of parish history.
Every Thursday, this is where the heritage tour starts: here, beside the original weathervane that once adorned the iconic steeple.
The heritage tour is a recent addition to the historic world of Colonial Williamsburg, centered around the newly constructed Heritage Center. Tours began in the summer and have increased in popularity.
The Heritage Center is a project many years in the making, said Jim Morford, chairman of the Friends of Bruton. It’s a small self-guided museum, meant to give visitors a better idea of the parish’s long history. The space contains photographs and artifacts such as the weathervane, the Bible of King Edward VII and an introduction to the online parish records.
Marcia Hibbitts, guide coordinator and an organizer of the heritage tour, said the tour is for anyone looking to explore more than the building. It includes a talk about the Episcopal Church by a member of the clergy and a stroll down the street, noting details of architecture and areas of interest.
“It culminates in a tour of the churchyard and the church,” said Hibbitts. “We have some stones that are still legible and tell amazing stories.”
Morford has plenty of anecdotes about the churchyard, his favorite place to linger during the hour-long tour. He jokes that the last president of the United States is buried there. Referring not to any of our recent presidents but, instead, the last President of the United States in Congress Assembled, before the dismantling of the Articles of Confederation: Cyrus Griffin.
He insists that it stumps the audience every time.
“We hope to turn tourists into pilgrims,” said Morford. “Let them experience the pilgrimage — the path the church has taken from 1607 to 2018.”
The heritage tours are at 2 p.m. Thursdays, beginning in the Heritage Center inside the Parish Shop. Tours are free, though donations are welcome.