Pineapples and Perceptions

I struggled to think of a place that would be easy for me to reach in the town of Williamsburg (without a car), not in Colonial Williamsburg, that I had not visited in my four years at William and Mary. What could be left? Then I realized the number of bed and breakfasts that serve Williamsburg, so many of which are right across the street from campus. One of these, the Colonial Capital Bed and Breakfast, is located at Richmond Road and Virginia Avenue, and is where I chose to visit last Sunday afternoon.

Snow crunched under my feet as I tromped up the long sidewalk to the Colonial Capital. A plaque on the door marked that it has been in establishment since 1988. I tried to open the front door (aren’t bed and breakfasts just like hotels but smaller? Can’t I just walk in?) but found it to be locked. I rang the doorbell, and waited nervously for someone to open it. An older gentleman answered the door, and I explained my purpose to him—that I was a student at the College, doing research for a class, and was hoping he might let me look around. He let me in, but looked confused, and asked what I was researching. I explained that it was less of a “what” and more of a “where,” a prompt to go somewhere I had never been and experience a place outside of the William and Mary campus. He laughed at this, but seemed willing to let me look around the bed and breakfast.

I found the bed and breakfast to be an odd hybrid space between the public and the private. My thought prior to entering was that the space I would be able to view (the breakfast half of the bed and breakfast) would be similar to a hotel. I walked around most of the ground floor, and some of it fit my previous idea—a desk displayed pamphlets about the area, and a guest book was prominently displayed, along with a sign marking the establishment as AAA approved. At the same time, I was very aware that I was in a house, not a building constructed for commercial purposes. I explored the large living room, dining room, and a small breakfast nook. They were all laid out as if someone lived there—comfortable pillows on couches, tables waiting to be set for dinner. (There were even some Williamsburg local history books spread out on the coffee table.) It took me a while to realize that this was a home, for the owner of the Colonial Capital. A space that I had always considered as removed from everyday life, as a getaway for travelers, also functions as a very intimate and personal space for those who make it their lives, and not just a weekend away.

At first, my interactions with the owner were a bit awkward. He did not seem to know what to make of a college student wandering through his bed and breakfast, and I imagine I looked silly walking around and looking at the place, without a very clear understanding of what I was looking for. He followed me into the different rooms for a few minutes, which made me very self-conscious, as if I might make trouble. Eventually he seemed assured that I was not going to steal anything, and I explored the downstairs alone. I was not given any direction, but did not feel comfortable entering the kitchen, located toward the back of the house, though I did spot groceries sitting on the counter from the doorway. The owner did not tell me where I could or could not go, but I felt like the kitchen was in the private or management portion of the Colonial Capital, and that venturing there would be an unwelcome visit behind the scenes to the running of the bed and breakfast. I also made the choice not to go upstairs, as that gave the impression of being a space reserved for the resident or paying guests.

The most meaningful experience of my visit came when I asked the owner a question. I had noticed the images of pineapples in and outside the building, from a flag out front to candle holders in the dining room. Prompted by my own curiosity more than anything else, I asked what was significant about pineapples. He explained that they are a symbol of hospitality dating back to the colonial era, when pineapples where a rare product in some areas of the world, and one who shared pineapple was seen as an especially generous soul. The owner of the Colonial Capital, a retired employee of Colonial Williamsburg, said the historical workers would refer to themselves as “working for the big pineapple.” They are the symbol of the hospitality house (across the road), and are among the many symbols used to represent establishments before widespread literacy.

This man came alive telling me the story about pineapples, and I wanted to hear more that he could tell me about the town. (This past summer, I worked for a local newspaper, and spent time interviewing members of my community. At this point in my visit, I felt like I was back on a story assignment, and began a dialogue appropriate to the interaction between reporter and subject, though I did not plan it that way.) He explained that the house was built in 1926, during the reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg, and was part of a former farm owned by brothers who were active in the town, and even financed part of the wall that runs between campus and Richmond Road. (I have a quest to find the marker on the wall that recognizes the contribution of the Bozarths.) It was a local history lesson from someone who knew an entirely different side of Williamsburg than the one that I experience on a daily basis.

The Colonial Capital has faced harder times with the recession, as the owner said that travel was an aspect of life readily purged to save on funds. I proposed that the bed and breakfast model might appeal to a specific segment of the tourist population, and the owner agreed that he relies on older clients, saying he shared age and retired status with much of his clientele. I am clearly outside of those typical customers, and felt like an outsider, observing a service and space meant for someone very different from me. I felt very young, less of a reporter now and more of a college kid who had never walked into a bed and breakfast before.

My visit to the Colonial Capital Bed and Breakfast taught me well about space and the people who inhabit them. The seemingly very close and familiar, a house on Richmond Road, can feel like a different, strange world. It might be difficult to imagine relating to someone in a foreign environment, but not so hard to find common ground and understanding by simply asking them a question. They can share a great deal about place, history, and definitely hospitality.


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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