Spears and Tate Reflections

I found Mia Stratis Spears’ account of the prominent role of the Greek community in Williamsburg both fascinating and surprising. Williamsburg is arguably one of the most “American” towns in the United States because of its history. Spears challenges that notion by placing the small, but influential, Greek community in the forefront of the city’s twentieth-century economic and social development.

She begins her article, entitled “Perseverance, Preservation, and Prosperity: The Greek Community of Williamsburg,” by describing the first Greek immigrants as disciplined and determined. Two of the most notable early Greek immigrants to Williamsburg were Angelo and Nick Costas. Together, they set the tone for Greek prosperity in Williamsburg through the development of restaurants and other social hubs that were student-friendly. With the development of the historical part of Colonial Williamsburg, the Greek leaders in the town expanded their hospitality to tourists.

Spears also highlights the Greek community’s dedication to the city’s permanent residences, as well as its students and tourists. Through financial donations to community institutions such as hospitals and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, wealthy Greek residents asserted their commitment to Williamsburg. One individual, George Genakos contributed politically as a member of the City Council. Yet, despite these declarations of allegiance to Williamsburg, the Greek community continued to identify with their cultural roots. They accomplished this through participation in the local chapter of the American Hellenic Education Progressive Association, AHEPA.

The Greek community positively contributed to town-gown relations through the development of inexpensive eateries for William and Mary students. Many of these are still around today – including the College Delly.

Thaddeus W. Tate, Jr.’s article on town-gown relations between Williamsburg and William and Mary begins with the royal charter in 1693, well before the arrival of Greek immigrants. In general, Tate tells a fairly positive story of the interactions between the College and the town. He describes the relationship as generally harmonious, which I believe has become less true due to the influence of Colonial Williamsburg as a profitable tourist destination. In my view, William and Mary’s town-gown relations have evolved to a town-gown-Foundation model. In my observance of local politics, the residents often side with the “tame and quiet” CW Foundation rather than the “rowdy and progressive” university. This creates a unique relationship that I do not believe any other colleges face.

While reading this piece, I compared the town-gown relations of William and Mary and Williamsburg to other universities and their host city. At UVA, for example, I have heard and witnessed that the city of Charlottesville relies on the university for a source of jobs, cultural enlightenment, and consumers (in the form of students). That is not the case in Williamsburg because of the tourist population, which, I would assume, is generally more economically profitable.

Tate’s account of town-gown relations takes readers through a turbulent past of financial uncertainty, multiple wars, and debates on the role of education in the town. What I did not realize is that the William and Mary I know today – a medium-sized university with approximately 6,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students – is nothing like the William and Mary of years past. In fact, Tate often describes the College as a tiny liberal arts college with small faculties – often in the single digits – and around 100 to 125 students. It was not until after World War II that William and Mary emerged as a larger institution with familiar traditions such as the Yule Log and Charter Day ceremonies. More students in graduate and undergraduate programs meant more classrooms, dormitories, and student centers. Tate states that as a result of the new, larger university, town-gown relations changed. He specifically points to traffic and parking concerns as well as the value greater community engagement on behalf of the students. However, he asserts, until the end of the article, that the relationship between William and Mary and Williamsburg should always be mutually beneficial. This class is a perfect example of that mentality. We, as students at the College, have the time, resources, and incentives to produce an archive that is useful for the city.


1 Response to “Spears and Tate Reflections”

  1. 1 sgglos February 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Nice account of the pieces you read. I like your personal reflection on the differences between Wmbg & C-ville.

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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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