Reading Response for the Chappell & Oxrieder Articles

In the article “Williamsburg Claims the Amenities of Life”, Julia W. Oxrieder is arguing that her beloved town of Williamsburg, Virginia is in fact a very active, if not progressive, town. The author is looking to debunk the persistent stereotype about Williamsburg’s “lazy and sleepy” (157) qualities, a viewpoint that has managed to stick to the town since just after the Civil War. Oxrieder knocks down the label by giving a full history of consistent progress and activity that occurred in the town from 1880-1920.

Oxrieder acknowledges that at first, the town retained a very rural but well-run aspect of small town life. Essentially, they were far from lazy and the town even boasted thirty-six prominent farmers. Williamsburg had a host of successful merchants including an African American man, Samuel Harris, and a woman, Mrs. W. H. Braithwaite, who ran an undertaking business. Oxrieder notes how the town worked diligently to recover from the destruction and loss that resulted from the Civil War. This is an important part of the argument because the destruction the South endured during and from the war, was more than crippling. I just read an article that described the methods employed by Sherman and Grant when they trampled through the South. They used, albeit reluctantly, a style of warfare that intentionally destroyed any source of sustenance for the Confederate soldiers and its citizens called, chevauchée. Essentially, this is one of the many reasons the South struggled to revive itself after the war. However, Oxrieder strongly argues that the citizens of Williamsburg worked continuously and laboriously to overcome this disadvantage.

From the completion of the C&O railroad connecting the Peninsula to the vast trading networks further west, to the reopening of the College of William & Mary by “the Seven Wise Men” (158), the group of professors that took it upon themselves to reopen and reestablish the school’s prestige, this town remained far from lazy during this forty year time period.  Williamsburg saw automobiles, electricity, sewage systems, public schools, community efforts, and telephone and telegraph lines arrive during this time era. Clearly, the community was far from lazy or backwards. Williamsburg was on the same track as the rest of the country according to Oxrieder. While it possessed some quaint qualities like chestnut and opossum hunts, it went to through the same growing pains that the rest of the U.S. experienced. It suffered ups and downs, but managed to maintain progress in light of adversity. Oxrieder doesn’t want this label of lazy or sleepy to continue to permeate the understanding of this interesting town, and she did a good job convincing me.

The Chappell article was super fascinating because I very much enjoy architecture. Chappell is the Director of Architectural Research for Colonial Williamsburg. He describes the nature of the unique flair of developer John G. Pollard. Pollard’s vision for Pollard Park and Chandler Court was focused on a distinct style of neighborhood development that retains natural and organic qualities. These two neighborhoods are special to the residents of Williamsburg and have managed to remain largely unchanged. They have been criticized by other architects for their smallness and “impractical narrow, lanes” (175) in the past.

Chappell is arguing that Pollard’s style fosters community relations better than the more modern developments that arose during the 1960s and 1970s. He suggests that developments like Pollard Park and Chandler Court offer an individuality that at once is dignified, interesting, and worth repeating. Because he is an expert of restoration, Chappell enjoys the aspect of antiquity and aesthetic of developments like Pollard’s. This romantic style allows Williamsburg to retain its charm.

1 Response to “Reading Response for the Chappell & Oxrieder Articles”

  1. 1 sgglos February 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    What might Kammen have to say about these essays as examples of local history? How do they compare to the local histories we examined?

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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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