Site of Pocahontas' village, Werowocomoco

Guests look out to the York River while at Bob and Lynn Ripley's property during the dedication June 21, 2013, to preserve Werowocomoco in Gloucester. (Jonathon Gruenke / Daily Press / June 21, 2013)

GLOUCESTER — Just as John Smith did 400 years ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe arrived by boat at Werowocomoco on the banks of the York River to survey in person a land of rich history and great promise.

McAuliffe visited on Tuesday the farm owned by Bob and Lynn Ripley — formerly occupied by Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas in 1607 when English settlers arrived in Virginia — that could become a national park, linking Gloucester with the Hampton Roads region's famed Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg.

President Barack Obama's proposed budget calls for spending $6 million on the Werowocomoco site in Gloucester and the John Smith Trail, which traces Smith's exploratory hopscotch journey throughout the Chesapeake Bay area from 1607 to 1609.

Moments after stepping off the boat that delivered McAuliffe and a contingent of aides and state officials to the Ripleys' dock, the governor was peppering them and Randolph Turner, director of the Tidewater Regional Office of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, with questions about the land.

Rising abruptly from the York River, the Ripley property flattens out across an open grass field from which Powhatan ruled a confederacy that encompassed an estimated 6,000 square miles and 15,000 people. Powhatan's village occupied 50 acres, distinctive in its setting bordered by three creeks and its unique layout.

Turner and Martin Gallivan, an archaeologist and assistant professor at the College of William and Mary, alternately described during a tour of the property the features of the Werowocomoco. Gallivan said radiocarbon dates of artifacts have revealed the village existed 400 years prior to Smith's arrival in 1607.

Gallivan said an estimated 100 to 200 people lived at the village, where freshwater springs, rich soil and abundant seafood in Purtan Bay allowed Werowocomoco to thrive for centuries.

While the archaeological features such as the 75-foot house where Powhatan resided — and where it's believed that Smith most likely encountered the chief — the distinctive concentric trenches and multitude of artifacts may lure tourists, the big draw is Pocahontas.

Bob Ripley said the first question they get from visitors is about Pocahontas. He related how one little girl who had seen the Disney movie about Pocahontas was having trouble putting it all together.

"She said, `Mommy, mommy, where's the waterfall?'" Bob Ripley said.

McAuliffe said he has briefed and has the full support of Virginia's congressional delegation about the proposal for the national park.

"I think this is spectacular," McAuliffe said. "This is just a tremendous opportunity."

He sees Werowocomoco and the John Smith Trail as a means to draw tourists, helping diversify the state's economy and bringing money to communities such as Gloucester. Just as McAuliffe arrived at Werowocomoco by boat from across the York River, he said he can see tourists landing from the water.

"I want this done tomorrow," McAuliffe said. "I want to see boats, I want to see it all going on here."

Sabo can be reached at 757-503-1459.