Maps and a Place Discourse vol. 2

2 Boys and a Neighborhood

Riding our bikes down Lafayette Street, Cody and I decided to take a left on a certain Capital Landing Road. We found ourselves in a residential neighborhood, one which we had coincidentally never been to. We pulled up next to a huge house and, deciding to explore on foot, hid our bikes in a patch of evergreen conifers on their lawn. There seemed to be a steady stream of evening traffic and we figured that the road was regularly used by people who didn’t live in the neighborhood. Looking at a map of Williamsburg when I got back home, I found out the neighborhood harbored a major intersection between route 5 and route 60 (Capital Landing turns into route 5 after intersecting with route 60). It was an interesting street because every house was completely different, both in terms of architecture and size. Most houses were medium sized, some were huge, and a number were rather dwarfish. One house seemed particularly Southern with a screened front porch with a swinging bench on it and a proudly displayed American flag. Across the street and down a couple houses was a sort of fake log cabin that almost looked like it was made of plastic. Every house varied in its own unique way.
There were a number of kids playing in one of the side streets and many of the houses had children’s bikes and other paraphernalia of fun (little soccer nets, trampolines, hoola-hoops, etc.). This brought us to the conclusion that we were walking through a family-oriented neighborhood, much different from ours further up Lafayette Street, which consists mainly of college students and elderly folk. This didn’t make it uncomfortable to be in, but I probably would have never found my way into the neighborhood if I hadn’t been out to explore. Seeing the kids and being in a residential neighborhood, we began to talk about the neighborhoods we grew up in and went on reminiscing for awhile. It was different from most neighborhoods I had been in because each house seemed to have its own character, rather than most houses being uniformly manufactured in the non-distinct style. Each home seemed to have been built during different periods and some even looked ancient. The neighborhood didn’t remind me of anything really, like the Audioslave song.
In terms of why I would have never been there, it’s probably because it was so far removed from the campus and I wouldn’t have any reason to travel that far west into Williamsburg. Upon reflection though, maybe that’s what made it such a prime location for families. The neighborhood had its own nook in the town, where it wouldn’t have to deal with college students, tourists, or any of the resulting incontinences. It was near a fairly busy crossroads, but that’s just a by-product of living in a fairly small town. Reflecting even further, I pretty much jumped to every conclusion I’ve drawn about the neighborhood. I have no idea who actually lives there, what the social dynamic is really like, or why people have chosen to live there. I’ve only been able to draw conclusions from the various things I saw from the sidewalk on a twenty-five minute stroll. I was only experiencing it like a tourist, judging everything at first glance, and only having a first glance to base my conclusions on. All I can really report is what stood out to me in the area and why I thought it might be important.

Two Maps and a Boy

I bought two maps with Williamsburg in them and taped them up on the wall side by side. The map on the left was specifically of Williamsburg and featured the town dead center; I found myself looking at this one first. For as long as I’ve been here, I have never actually studied a map of the area. Two things immediately struck me as different from my previous understanding of the town: Williamsburg was a much smaller area than I imagined and I had always pictured it as circular. Colonial Williamsburg and our college completely dominate the town, the two of them being located in the middle of everything, stretching almost completely across the town’s latitude. The town has a northern peninsula that forms around Richmond road, which serves mainly as a business district, accommodating a number of restaurants and hotels located in the area. The southeast portion of Williamsburg is populated by a couple of golf courses and a lot of open space.
In terms of defining the town, the map draws a clear line between Williamsburg and the surrounding area. Outside of the official town are a number of street clusters (attempting to section them off, I counted nine, excluding Fords Colony). Looking through Google Earth, many of these places seem to be residential areas, which I would imagine are tied in heavily with the local economy. Having been to a few of these places before, I always thought that they were within the town’s boundaries. One interesting aspect about this is it seems that Williamsburg has developed a sort of metropolis around itself. The map also shows that a good portion of land to the east of Williamsburg is owned by the United States military, particularly the Navy. In terms of an implicit purpose to this map, I had trouble finding one; it seemed more or less a simple definition of Williamsburg and the surrounding area.
The next map was of the Virginia Peninsula, which followed route 64 from Williamsburg to the Hampton shore. It’s interesting to move from the smaller map of Williamsburg to this one. It’s as if someone zoomed the camera out so the entire Hampton Roads region of Virginia is revealed. It becomes clear that Williamsburg is just a small town dwarfed by the much larger ones of Newport News and Hampton. I had never thought of Williamsburg’s size compared to these two, but its impossible to notice when they’re represented in the same scale. Williamsburg’s location along the James River becomes much clearer. This map was clearly of a much more generalized nature, the center being the borders between Hampton and Newport News. Williamsburg was just a tiny town on the left corner of the map.
Interestingly, though, the map had a note that a closer view of Williamsburg was offered on the back. This made me think about the map makers and the clear emphasis put on Williamsburg. It was clear that Rand McNally© envisioned that a large number of people would be buying the map with the intention of using it to navigate to or through Williamsburg. So, despite its relatively homunculus-like form next to Newport News and Hampton, a special place for Williamsburg was saved, explicitly catering towards the tourists and implicitly stressing its importance within its larger area.


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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