THE CENTER OF CULTURE AND ELEGANCE IN VIRGINIA
When Thomas Jefferson arrived in Williamsburg , VA. to attend The College of William and Mary, the city had a population of roughly 1,800 people and had a very muddy thoroughfare.
Duke of Gloucester Street (the main drag) would have been lined with taverns, stores, and dwellings. Although somewhat riotous, it also had a regal quality about the town; Williamsburg was perhaps a little England unto itself, a world apart from the back country that Jefferson grew up in.
Three truly great buildings dominated the scene, the Governor’s palace, The Capitol and the College of William and Mary Wren Building, which were all, made of brick and would not have looked very out of place in London.
As Jefferson would have walked or ridden horseback down Duke of Gloucester street he would have passed the Bruton Parish Church or possibly gone inside for Sunday services, as well as the above mentioned buildings and it would have seemed a very busy, thriving place.
But Thomas Jefferson also had mixed feelings about Williamsburg and also felt like the architecture needed improving but then again he spent a lot of time thinking about architecture and designing buildings, especially his home Monticello.
Regardless, of Jefferson’s opinions, Williamsburg was a hub of activity and where the Governor lived and worked, The palace was a very elegant and in the entryway was a display of the might of the English crown with the walls lined in patterns with weapons to prove the might of the crown and woodworking to be the envy of every other home in the country and even to rival palaces in England.
Then the Revolutionary War happened, during that time and especially during the planning of the battle of Yorktown George Washington used the home of Mr. Wythe who had also been a teacher to Thomas Jefferson and a good friend. There was much turmoil there with the war as with the whole countryside as not everyone was of the same opinion about the war or pulling away from the crown. It was a very tumultuous time.
I had the opportunity to tour this historic home as well and many of the other buildings and to go to Williamsburg, the Williamsburg experience is quite a remarkable feeling of stepping back in time.
Before, during and right after the Revolutionary War Williamsburg was a major town in Virginia but later it became less important when the capitol was moved to Richmond in 1780. Over time buildings became rundown and history lost.
Then in the early part of the 20th century Mr. W.A.R. Goodwin a rector of Bruton Parish Church and head of William and Mary College; helped to initiate a resurrection of protecting the history of Williamsburg and he approached philanthropist Mr. John D. Rockefeller who then invested a lot of money to help rebuild the governor’s palace and other buildings and fixing up the buildings which commenced in 1926, thus preserving about 80 original buildings and rebuilding some that were lost.
An organization was formed to protect these buildings and make it a living history town. And so it is today. As you walk into Williamsburg it is quite a bit like stepping back in time with horse drawn carriages and people dressed in period clothing working and walking about and in the stores, most of what is sold looks old fashioned as if you truly were in the colonial times.
We had the good fortune of spending several days there and loved every minute of walking about, visiting the different buildings, taking tours and listening to lectures about the times as well as parades and we saw 4th of July fireworks there this past summer.
It is in some ways reflective of reenactments or living history farms I have seen in the past but to step back into colonial times and experience the era down to the food and clothing of the period and walk the streets without a single car, it is unique unto itself. Emotional and patriotic. It makes one proud to be an American, it makes us stop and consider our ancestors and where our country has been and even consider where is our country going and are we honoring our founders by the way we deal with the issues of today or not? It makes one Consider what it means to be an American and to be free.