Taylor, Brown and DeSamper Reading Reflections

The reading assignments from this week, particularly the articles I was assigned to read, fit perfectly with the assignment also due: to explore a place I have never been before.  Thomas H. Taylor, Jr.’s “The Restoration of Williamsburg” and Peter A.G. Brown’s and Hugh DeSamper’s  “A Household Name: Colonial Williamsburg in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century” gave me the opportunity to learn about the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  As a second semester senior, it is almost embarrassing that I am just starting to learn the details of the restoration.

Thomas H. Taylor, Jr. describes the process of restoring the colonial area and creating the institution known as “Colonial Williamsburg”: the union of the Williamsburg Holding Corporation which was responsible for business, and Colonial Williamsburg Inc., the educational branch of the institution.   While most people familiar with Williamsburg know John D. Rockefeller funded the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and did have an integral role in restoring Colonial Williamsburg with painstaking detail, the names of other important people who made the restoration possible are not as widely known. One, arguably the most influential, was Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin who oversaw the daily operations.  He was responsible for acquiring “not only property for restoration, but also the blocks between the college and the palace green in order to create a commercial zone” (Taylor 182).  This was fascinating to me.  Throughout the article, I was continually struck by the shrewd business moves behind every decision.  The planners bought parcels of land surrounding the foundation of the old Capital they planned to rebuild to ensure no other structures would block its views.  They also purchased land to eventually build an Inn.  Every decision seemed to relate back to how to bring the most visitors and capitalize on the newly found tourism industry, while also providing the most realistic portrayal of life in Colonial Williamsburg (they did extensive research: excavating sites, going through old court records and family paperwork, and they even had someone research what shades of paint to use on the buildings’ interiors). Most of the originial restorations were completed by 1935.  “Fifty-nine structures had been restored, ninety-one others reconstructed, twenty-nine new shops in two business blocks at the west end of Duke of Gloucester Street, and four hundred fifty-eight structures removed” (Taylor 188). The number of building restored or reconstructed during that amount of time is truly amazing.

The article was truly enlightening.  While we all know Rockefeller made the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg possible, this article highlights the importance of looking at history in-depth and paying attention to the contributions of people who may not be well-known or receive any credit.  The article tells readers a lesser known fact about the restoration: it was a community effort that was made possible by many locals who worked tirelessly to make this historically significant place available to the public.

Brown and DeSamper’s chapter gives readers a detailed understanding of how the restoration continued while also improving the local economy. Though Colonial Williamsburg’s restoration was completed before World War II, the article discusses the continued “advancements” in restoring Colonial Williamsburg to how it was hundreds of years earlier.  These advancements which (counter-intuitively) bring Colonial Williamsburg back to its roots include adding the voices “of the common man – the tradesmen, women and children, and black slaves, and hundreds of thousands came to see, bear, and engage in an exciting story of our country’s beginning” (Brown et al 217).  Moreover, Colonial Williamsburg advanced the quality of their reenactors’ and tour guides’ presentations by bringing in lecturers from a variety of subjects to make sure the representatives of Colonial Williamsburg gave accurate information to visitors.  By emphasizing the importance of historical accuracy in its representations of Colonial life (whether in presentations, building restorations, or the interior design of a building) Colonial Williamsburg drew millions of people each year to experience what President Roosevelt called years before “the most historic avenue in all America” (Brown et al 222). The continued improvements to Colonial Williamsburg resulted in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s endeavor to raise millions from the public in order to preserve the historic town.  It seems as though it was easier to raise money once more and more foreign dignitaries and U.S. Presidents visited Williamsburg and thus brought greater attention to the historic area.

Often neglected when discussing Williamsburg is just how much of an impact the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg made on the local economy. As more people began to visit, more hotels and attractions including Busch Gardens and Water Country USA were built. Visitors were so impressed with Williamsburg that some never left.  They retired here resulting in the construction of many residential and retirement communities. This brought a lot of money to the area as well as a growing population.  It is hard to believe that less than a century these major developments, historical buildings in Colonial Williamsburg faced a bleak future while places of development today were nothing more but cornfields.  Though I have always appreciated living near Colonial Williamsburg and going to school in such a historically significant town (and college), the readings made me even more proud to have called Williamsburg home for the last four years.

1 Response to “Taylor, Brown and DeSamper Reading Reflections”

  1. 1 sgglos February 6, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    I’m glad you picked up on the focus on lesser-known local “heroes” of the restoration. It helps to show the local contributions to developing a nationally significant locale. Thoughtful reflections.

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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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