Project Proposal

Last weekend my parents came down to see me in a show at the College.  When I mentioned the Williamsburg Documentary Project and how this semester’s theme is retirement, my father asked my mother if she would consider retiring here.  Her response?

“If there’s a kid here.”

This got me thinking about retirees I know who live in the area.  There is a variety—some are from the area and some are not, some have family in the area and some do not, and some are heavily involved in the community and some are not.

For example, there are three women I have met while volunteering with a local Girl Scout troop.  One, the leader of the troop, is in her seventies.  Although not from the area, she moved here in 2008 to be with family.  She owns her own business and still runs it herself, in addition to being heavily involved with her church, a local Relay for Life, and running her granddaughter’s Girl Scout troop. She lives in a modest townhouse.

Another woman in her seventies is from Germany, but her husband’s business brought them to Hampton decades ago.  Their children grew up in Virginia and now live in Northern Virginia.  She and her husband retired to Williamsburg, where she takes Christopher Wren classes and does a lot of charity and cultural work.  I remember her saying that one of the reasons that she and her husband chose Williamsburg was that the grandchildren would enjoy visiting.  Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, and other tourist attractions make the kinds happy to visit Oma and Opa.  They live in a large home within walking distance of Merchant’s Square.

A third woman is in her sixties and from New York.  I know that she is an artist and enjoys the local art community in addition to volunteering with Girl Scouts, but I do not know her well enough to know why she and her husband retired to Williamsburg.  They live in a gated community.

One last retired couple I will mention is my aunt and uncle.  They retired a few years ago and still live in the house in Maryland where they raised their children, who are now 27 and 30 and live in Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia.  They travel all the time and come to a timeshare in Williamsburg at least once a year, if not two or three times.

When considering where people retire, I cannot get my mother’s priority out of my head.  My sister and I have agreed that she’ll probably choose to live near whichever one of us has grandchildren first.  Some retirees have children or grandchildren in the area, but not all.  Although there are a decent number of jobs for young professionals in the area, but many college students I know agree that we would rather settle elsewhere for at least the next decade or so.  In addition, I know that it might be at least a decade until my generation finds any sort of permanent place to settle.  With a volatile job market I might move several times before I find something permanent.  Many of my friends are staying in academia and have no idea where that will take them in the short or long term.  My parents might not be able to know where my sister and my families will end up for a while.

So what brings non-native retirees to Williamsburg, especially if they do not have children settled permanently in the area?  When I say ‘non-native’ I exclude a fairly broad group of people from the ‘Middle Peninsula,’ or perhaps anywhere between Richmond and Norfolk.  What attracts retirees to a town otherwise dominated by tourism and a college?  If both the tourist amenities and the College are incentives, is one more significant?  Or are retirees more attracted to the gated communities and retirement homes than the ‘rest of the town’?  What made their decision different than that of my aunt and uncle, who enjoy Williamsburg but only to visit?

I am not sure where my research will take me.  I plan to start by interviewing retirees I know that fit the profile—those who both did not live in the Williamsburg area before they retired and also do not have family close by.  If they live in a gated or retirement community I would like to know what drew them to one in Williamsburg rather one in the area where they are from or where their children live if they have any.  From there I hope to find more contacts.  I think that in-person interviews might be my primary source of information at least to start.  I would also like to do more research into when and why the demographics of Williamsburg changed to include a large older, non-working population.

1 Response to “Project Proposal”


  1. 1 sgglos February 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Your thoughts have evolved on this topic since we first spoke, and I think you have picked up on some interesting nuances. However, I strongly urge you to hone your research question. You will want to have a more focused topic and/or Big Question before you begin collecting oral histories. Naturally your project will take on new directions and evolve as you research, but you must begin with a focused topic in order to collect oral histories and other research that will be useful in addressing your project. Let’s talk more about this very soon.

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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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