Archive for January, 2014

WDP 2014 Preliminary Research Ideas

The 2014 Williamsburg Documentary Project theme of “Spaces: Lost, Found and Remembered” presents an interesting challenge for me, because not only am I new to Williamsburg, I am new to Virginia altogether.  I moved to Providence Forge in July 2013 and since then have spent most of my time either settling my family or navigating a new town and a new college; I have had limited opportunity to really get to know Williamsburg on an intimate level.   Yet as I reflect on Williamsburg, I realize there are a few places that provoke my curiosity.  At the top of my list are the Williamsburg Pottery Factory (WPF) complex and the Magruder/Grove communities.

On my first visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I noticed an abundance of white clay pottery with blue accents that was advertised as being genuine salt glaze colonial-style pottery.  The advertisement implied that this type of pottery had a special connection with Williamsburg’s history and I was curious about it.  It did not occur to me that this pottery might have a connection to the Williamsburg Pottery Factory (a large discount shopping complex located on the northwest edge of town) until recently, when I was reading a brief history of the town.   Apparently, the Williamsburg Pottery Factory’s predecessor was Williamsburg Pottery, which was founded by area native James (Jimmy) Maloney in 1938.  According to the WPF website, Mr. Maloney was an artisan skilled in the art of throwing clay in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Jamestown Colony style.  I am uncertain what exactly the connection is between Mr. Maloney and the pottery at Colonial Williamsburg, or if there even is a connection.  However, I am aware that the Williamsburg Pottery has a long history with this town and is recently a source of some conflict.  A YouTube video posted in 2010 about the demolition of the former Williamsburg Pottery complex offers a glimpse into the controversial nature of the property ( It would be interesting to look deeper in to the history of Williamsburg Pottery and the connection to the development of Williamsburg as a tourist attraction.

During my initial meeting with Dr. Lelièvre, she indicated that Camp Peary had a unique history and that some local residents had been forced from their homes to make way for the military complex.  I conducted a brief, informal Internet search and learned that the unincorporated town of Magruder was once located on the property now occupied by Camp Peary.  The Magruder community apparently came together at some point following the Civil War and was composed primarily of freed African Americans.  When the United States decided to put a military base there in 1942, Magruder residents were forced to relocate.  I understand that many Magruder residents may have settled in nearby Grove, Virginia which lies in York County on the James River in sight of the Busch Gardens theme park. I am unsure exactly where an exploration of Magruder and Grove would take me, but I do think it would be a worthwhile journey.

Williamsburg is an important American city, with roots dating back to the seventeenth century.  Certainly there are other American cities with as much “history” as Williamsburg, but Williamsburg is unique in how it has chosen to preserve that history.  While other cities constructed monuments or museums to document their past, Williamsburg leaders chose instead to popularize the town, thereby capitalizing on tourist dollars to fund historical preservation efforts.   I propose that a project documenting Williamsburg Pottery would demonstrate that Williamsburg Pottery was/is more than a discount shopping center, but in fact a microcosm of the greater Williamsburg effort to preserve history through tourism.

Like many other Southern towns, in Williamsburg the Euro-American and African American populations have a deep and turbulent history.  According to author Jack Edwards’ 1999 work on Williamsburg, since the arrival of Anheuser-Busch on the scene in the late 1960s the African American population of the James City County/Williamsburg area has shrunk considerably.  A documentary project focused on the Magruder/Grove community and the decisions that led to the extinction of Magruder may provide valuable insight into what one might call the “whitewashing” of the greater Williamsburg community.

Henry Preliminary Research Ideas

When brainstorming preliminary ideas for a topic, I realized that I should focus on a topic that drew me to American Studies, which is the topic of race; however, the first few readings drew me to a family that have strong ties to the College of William and Mary. As a member of the Williamsburg Community, I am lucky to actually to have some interaction with this family, but did not realize their connection to Williamsburg and its history. Unfortunately, I do not think focusing on this family would allow further understanding of Williamsburg since this course will focus on spaces.

Instead, I thought that exploring certain gated communities like Kingsmill would be a better topic. These communities have been in Williamsburg for some years yet, the people who reside there appear to not have changed. Kingsmill was initially Kingsmill Plantation and was owned by Richard Kingsmill. It went through many changes and its greatest change was during reconstruction initiated by the Rockefellers. I am engrossed in the idea of researching these places because I know some students who currently work in these small communities and tell stories of their experiences with the residents. Seemingly, the staff in those gated communities appears to have the same racial structure as the cooking staff at William and Mary. Many of the stories depict how stagnant Williamsburg is compared to other cities.

Another possible topic that interested me was looking at the first African American church in Williamsburg, which is First Baptist Church on Scotland. The church in African American communities has been a place where they could come together and discuss religion but also politics, education, and much more. As a member of Ebony Expressions Gospel Choir, I frequently attended the church and was able to interact with many of the members of First Baptist Church. I found that the current members wanted to build a stronger relationship with the students at the College. I did not know if they sought a stronger relationship because there are more African American students or if there was never a relationship established. I am interested in seeing how the relationship between the college and the church has evolved. This church has proven to have been unscathed by the numerous events that have taken place in Williamsburg similar to the College. Through exploring the relationship between the college and church, there would be a more in depth understanding of the race relations in Williamsburg as well as what this space means to the church members.

A.Hiponia Preliminary Research Ideas

There are two subjects of immediate interest that come to mind when thinking about potential research topics. My initial idea was about one of the numerous bed and breakfast businesses around the perimeter of the WM campus. I’ve always passed by or seen certain houses in the residential areas around the school and wondered about the history of the house itself, the owners who run the business, and what kinds of people actually stay at the B&Bs. I know that many of the houses in these neighborhoods are very old and have been remodeled, expanded, etc. It would be interesting to find out more about the different generations of such a business (or businesses) and perhaps in the process, I’d be able to learn about what specific effects they had on the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, the commercial aspect of the Bed & Breakfast business continues to hold a very quaint, intimate charm that is often associated with older, affluent guests who might prefer the “homeliness” of a country home in a place like Williamsburg. I wonder just how successful or profitable such an industry in this area can continue to be, considering the continuous expansion of new developments, nearby hotels, and other luxury resorts. Are there challenges that these types of businesses face today in comparison to their historical past? How have they managed to remain in operation? I’m sure many of the houses in these areas, including these Bed & Breakfast businesses, have equally interesting stories that would be worthwhile to document through the class.

The second topic I had in mind actually came to me by coincidence, thanks to conversations with my friends living in an old house on Scotland St. Although their house had been handed down through members of their sorority throughout the years, their landlord, Oscar Blayton, has remained the same. It turns out that Blayton was actually the first black male to graduate with an undergraduate degree from William & Mary. He continues to rent out the Scotland St. house to students, but I’m curious about his ties to other spaces in the Williamsburg community, especially in regards to residential areas. Thanks to a quick Google search, I found a Daily Press article from 2004 where a reporter interviewed Blayton about the attempt to revive the Braxton Court neighborhood, a predominantly African-American community, and the resentment towards college students in “taking over” the area. Throughout the article, Blayton is illustrated as a very outspoken advocate of the neighborhood, since he apparently spent his childhood in the Braxton Court area, and clearly seems to hold very strong attachments to this very personal space. Perhaps Blayton among many other landlords in the area deal with similar issues of restoration/revival, considering the growing amount of expansion by WM to accommodate student housing, parking, etc.

Overall, I think I find the residential communities outside of campus to be most intriguing to me, just because of the local history embedded in the houses and the people who lived or continue to live there. Maybe there is a bit of a contrast between a polished B&B and older (and as I’ve often seen, sometimes problematic) family homes in the local neighborhoods, but I think either subject might be interesting to continue to explore in depth for the duration of the semester.

Alvarez’s Preliminary Research Ideas

While brainstorming possible topics to pursue for my project, I have found that I keep coming back to two general ideas: race and religion. I have had the opportunity to study both pretty broadly and on a national and international scale through my American Studies major. I have found a passion for these topics through my coursework, and find myself continually taking classes related to these topics. What excites me about the potential of running with one of the two ideas is that I will have the opportunity to engage with what I have learned on a much more personal scale, and in a place that has been relevant and accessible to me; I will have the chance to bring these ideas to life. What I was finding to be an obstacle, though, was how to exactly tie in my ideas with the theme of “places: lost, found, and remembered”.

After some surface level research, I stumbled upon the First Baptist Church that is located on Scotland Street here in Williamsburg. This church is a predominantly African American Baptist church with quite a long history in this city, and ties together both religion and race. This church was originally founded in the 1700’s by the free and enslaved blacks who no longer wished to worship God amongst their slave owners at Bruton Parish. It was first housed in the Carriage House of Robert F. Coles on Nassau Street in 1776. In 1856, a new African Baptist Church was erected across from the Carriage house, where it stayed until 1956 when it moved to its present location of Scotland Street.

I would want to locate the sites of the previous locations to examine their current state and see if they have been kept and memorialized. I would then visit the current location of the church, which could happen preliminarily through church tours that are offered. I think visiting Bruton Parish would add an interesting perspective to the project, and seeing the racial relations from the opposite lens.

When I was thinking of this project prior to coming to the first class, I considered stepping outside of the immediate Williamsburg area and examining race and education out in Farmville, Virginia, a location that I have studied much about. I had the opportunity in another class to interview the previous principal of the Prince Edward High School, which had been shut down for 6 years in attempts to resist integration. Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to conduct a short, over the phone interview, and would have loved the opportunity to reconnect with him and those whom he shared in these experiences with. The Moton Museum, which was previously the high school, memorializes this time and tries to educate others on inequality and discrimination in public education. There is a William and Mary alumni who currently works with the museum and on their outreach program, which would have been another potential interview contact.

Welcome to WDP 10!

2014 marks the tenth iteration of the Williamsburg Documentary Project. This year we’ll be working with the theme: Spaces – Lost, Found and Remembered. WDP 10 will be taught by Michelle Lelièvre with teaching assistance from Kate Previti. Using city plans, oral histories, photographs and other resources, we will explore how Williamsburg’s residents and visitors have constructed, erased and remembered spaces. We will consider the construction and commemoration of these spaces in the context of the broader social science literature on space, place and landscape. Welcome to WDP 10!


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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