Post-WWII growth of Colonial Williamsburg

In 1953, Carlisle H. Humelsine became the president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and moved the vision for the area forward with an emphasis on the educational expansion and economic needs of this historic place.  The goodwill relationship between the public and the CW Foundation was essential to its ongoing success.  The desire to increase public access to colonial artifacts made the development The DeWitt-Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery alongside the Public Hospital restoration in a shared space a workable solution for the problem of limited space for housing and showing important items.  Expansion required funding.

By the mid-seventies fundraising was emphasized and the American public responded by donating $50,000 raised from 300 donors.  Development of other projects to support growing tourism ensured that visitors would have comfortable lodgings, places to eat and things to see related to the Colonial Williamsburg showcase of historic Williamsburg.

Beyond the development of tourist infrastructure the initiative to eliminate automobiles from the Duke of Gloucester Street and completion of the Colonial National Parkway from Jamestown to Williamsburg was an asset to an already remarkable attraction.

The addition of an Information Center and an orientation film, Willilamsburg The Story of a Patriot, filmed on location in 1956 entertained and educated millions of visitors.  The careful training and attention to historic detail in the dress and conduct of interpreters added to the feeling of authenticity in the historic area.  Research has always been an important aspect in the delivering of a quality experience to tourists.  William and Mary faculty, scholars and the Institute of Early American History and Culture, participated in lecturing interpreters on colonial history to ensure authentic representations.  Close attention to accurately representing history ensures ongoing public confidence.  Visitors are confident that what they hear and see at Colonial Williamsburg is as authentic an experience as can be had in modern times.  This experience includes interpretations of Colonial African American experiences.

Celebrations have been added to expand the economic opportunities for CW and provides visitor events that keep people coming to the area all year around.  In the colder months during the Chirstmas season there is the Grand Illumination of the City and decorating of household doors with natural items like fruit and greenery that is a famous and widely anticipated annual event.  The Fife and Drum corp was developed in 1963 as a compliment to the established militia corp and is now seen as “our signature” according to Charles Longsworth as a symbol of Colonial Williamsburg.

Other economic enterprises advantageous to the area included the development of a Craft House to make reproductions for sale, and the restoration and opening of Jamestown.  Many distinguished visitors to the area, like Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1957, made it a desireable place to visit.  My own parents honeymooned here in 1957.

Later development, like Busch Gardens, Kingsmill Resort and Busch Corporate Park in the 1970s further expanded the economic base of the area and increased tourism and relocations to the surrounding community around Williamsburg.  The additions became important to the economic health of James City County and Williamsburg.  It has been essential that the locals work with the tourism in the area to ensure ongoing success.  The goodwill component of local businesses, residents and institutions like the College of William and Mary is an essential component of the area’s success as a tourist destination.  Everyone takes pride in the quiet patriotism that exists in the area and works to preserve the humble heritage that was Reverend Goodwin’s vision and legacy for “a small Tidewater town”.

2 Responses to “Post-WWII growth of Colonial Williamsburg”


  1. 1 sgglos February 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    These are very detailed summaries, but I wonder what your thoughts were about these chapters as examples of local history.

  2. 2 Collin Scott February 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    As local histories the Taylor and Brown & DeSamper articles reflect a passionate commitment by Goodwin and other influential people to preserving artifacts and architecture that indicates how the area flourished during Colonial times. Like the writers of patrician history wanted “to lure settlers to their communities” as Kammen suggests in his article,”Local History’s Past”,the local historians of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s wanted to create accounts that would attract outsiders to the area and thereby ensure economic prosperity for the community for multiple generations.
    Most of the groups involved in the Williamsburg restoration projects were people with the money and influence to create a favorable image of the area. They also saw the good in promoting an image of what Kammen noted as “a steady progression from rude beginnings to a contemporary civilized state” which included a reverence for things that showed a patriotic spirit of committment to the Nation and cast the people living in Williamsburg as progressive thinkers.
    The Taylor, and Brown & DeSamper articles detailed an intense desire to portray the history of the area accurately and to that end restoration project leaders engaged only the most reputable agents. However, as Kammen notes, like other local historians, Williamsburg’s historians purposely omitted information that did not cast a favorable light on the city; like the areas treatment of African-Americans. If as Kammen suggests “over time, local history has formed, developed, re-formed, and come of age” then contemporary projects like the Lemon Project will revise the local history and add create a narrative that is closest to early restoration committees intentions to create an authentic historical experience.

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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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