Explore Colonial Williamsburg from 1926 to 2016.
Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin tried early on to enlist Henry Ford in funding the restoration. On June 13, 1924 he wrote to Edsel Ford stating that “Unfortunately you and your father are at present the chief contributors to the destruction of this city.” Goodwin invites Edsel and Henry to Williamsburg to see “the unique opportunity which this place presents to do a spectacular thing…” The office of Henry Ford wrote back saying he was “unable to interest himself” due to his many other activities. Henry Ford later made several visits to Colonial Williamsburg, including the 1932 visit pictured in this photo.
The December 7, 1926 “David’s Father” telegram from Mr. Rockefeller authorizes the first purchase of Williamsburg property, the Ludwell-Paradise House, marking the beginning of the Restoration. In order to honor Mr. Rockefeller’s request for anonymity, the telegram employed vague language — the “antique” referred to was the house itself, and “David’s Father” was of course Mr. Rockefeller. The telegram was in response to Dr. Goodwin’s December 4 letter to Mr. Rockefeller notifying him that the house was about to come on the market.
Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller visited Williamsburg in May 1927 to discuss the restoration and examine architectural sketches with Dr. Goodwin. In preparation for the visit, Dr. Goodwin and his assistant, Elizabeth Hayes, prepared a notebook containing photographs and notes documenting the historic buildings, including the College of William and Mary’s historic campus. The resulting notebook was titled “Historical Notes and Tentative Suggestions Relative to the Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, Capital of Colonial Virginia” and provides a fascinating glimpse into pre-Restoration Williamsburg.
The Williamsburg Town Plan is the first drawing made by the Boston architectural firm of Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn for presentation of the overall restoration project to John D. Rockefeller Jr. in New York City in November 1927. The original drawing, now lost, measured approximately eight feet long.
In the November 29, 1927 letter to Dr. Goodwin and the excerpts dated November 30, 1927, Mr. Rockefeller expresses his commitment “…to carry out this enterprise completely and entirely.”
Williamsburg Town Plan measured by William G. Perry, drawn by Sammy Macmurtrie and others, revised by Andrew H. Hepburn, 1927.
The Mass Meeting broadside gave notice of an upcoming Williamsburg town meeting on June 12, 1928. At this meeting held in the Williamsburg High School, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was revealed as the Restoration’s secret benefactor. The City of Williamsburg approved the transfer of Market Square and Palace Green to Colonial Williamsburg, Inc. after receiving the verbal approval of the citizens attending the meeting.
Todd and Brown Inc., an engineering and contracting firm, served as general contractor to carry out plans for the restoration and reconstruction of buildings in Williamsburg’s historic area and Merchants Square. They commenced work in 1928, maintaining offices in Williamsburg and at their headquarters in New York City. The Williamsburg office closed in 1934, when Williamsburg Restoration Inc. established its own Construction and Maintenance Department. However, Todd and Brown continued to assist the Restoration in a consulting role, overseeing the construction of the Williamsburg Inn from 1936 to 1937.
A recent gift from Webster Todd Jr., son of Webster Todd, one of the firm’s partners, provides visual documentation of the major projects undertaken by the contractors at Colonial Williamsburg. The photo album, a compilation of the firm’s work in both New York City and Williamsburg, contains a section describing the scope of the work at Williamsburg followed by a series of images that offer an overview of construction tasks undertaken at each site. It highlights Todd and Brown Inc.’s significant contributions to the initial restoration efforts at Colonial Williamsburg.
Colonial Williamsburg began buying hundreds of boxwoods in the 1920s — small, large and huge — from private homes all over the Southeast. Landscape designer Arthur Shurcliff created a “Boxwood Book” with plans, photographs and descriptions of the boxwoods — both in their native setting and for planned planting locations within the Historic Area. Boxwood selected as a result of Shurcliff’s recommendations arrived on Chesapeake & Ohio railroad cars behind the Governor’s Palace during installation of the formal garden.
Plans, Photographs & Descriptions of Boxwood Purchased by the Restoration by Arthur Shurcliff, complete to October 5, 1929.
Herbert S. Ragland’s notebooks documenting the Governor’s Palace excavation include lists of artifacts, sketches, and field notes. The page featured here, dating to June 1930, includes Ragland’s description of the process of digging trial trenches and the discovery of a brick drain. Contract photographer Thomas Layton visited the site regularly to take documentary images of the progress of archaeological investigations. Coupled together, the notebook and excavation photos provide a detailed record of discoveries at the Palace site.
The Travis House Restaurant opened on July 3, 1930. A popular restaurant for tourists in the 1930s, the Travis House stood for a period of time along Duke of Gloucester Street on the site formerly occupied by the Palace Theatre at the foot of Palace Green. Its menu featured dishes inspired by colonial recipes, including a three course supper menu for $1.00. The structure moved back to its original location at the northeast corner of Francis and Henry Streets in the 1960s and now serves as office space for Colonial Williamsburg employees.
Interior decorator Susan Higginson Nash formed the Ladies’ Advisory Committee to serve as local allies and advisors for the restoration project. Composed of women from Williamsburg, Richmond, and neighboring counties, this committee paved the way for visits by the restoration team to many Virginia homes such as Mount Airy, Gaymont, Ampthill, and Shirley. The committee members also periodically met to inspect interior finishes and furnishings of exhibition buildings under restoration or reconstruction. As a thank you for their efforts, the ladies received this album of photographs in 1932. The committee’s November 2, 1932 minutes document that the purpose of the album was to show “…the progress of the work thus far accomplished.”
Cover, An Album of Photographs of the Williamsburg Restoration selected for presentation to the members of the Ladies’ Advisory Committee, 1932.
The Raleigh Tavern opened on September 16, 1932 as Colonial Williamsburg's first exhibition building. A dedication ceremony held outside the tavern included speeches by Governor John Garland Pollard, Mayor George P. Coleman, and Kenneth Chorley, Vice-President of Colonial Williamsburg. It concluded with Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin formally opening the front door to admit the first guests.
On October 20, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Duke of Gloucester Street as "the most historic avenue in all America." The president’s motorcade processed from the Capitol to the College of William & Mary, where he received an honorary degree. In his address at the College, Roosevelt announced that the federal government would help fund preservation of Jamestown Island and the Yorktown battlefields as a result of the inspiring restoration efforts undertaken in Williamsburg. He noted, “When the work in these three places is completed, we shall have saved for future generations the Nation's birthplace at Jamestown, the cradle of liberty at Williamsburg, and the sealing of our independence at Yorktown.”
Colonial Williamsburg inaugurated formal costuming guidelines for all hostesses at exhibition buildings in 1934. This memo documents Vice-President Kenneth Chorley’s approval for the creation of fifteen dresses for employees for a total of $35.00 per outfit. In the photo, Mrs. Stryker, wife of future Williamsburg Mayor Henry Stryker, models one of the new gowns in the hallway of the Raleigh Tavern.
In January 1935, a portion of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s folk art collection went on display at the Ludwell-Paradise House. A pioneer collector of folk art, Mrs. Rockefeller helped found the Museum of Modern Art, as well as started the personal collection that would later become the nucleus of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Since the artwork did not mesh with the time frame of the Historic Area, Mr. Rockefeller suggested building a separate structure to house it after her death and endowed it as Colonial Williamsburg’s first art museum.
The Williamsburg Inn opened on April 3, 1937 to meet the growing need for accommodations as tourists discovered Colonial Williamsburg. Located on Francis Street just outside the Historic Area, the Inn’s neoclassical façade drew guests into an elegant Regency style interior. Mr. Rockefeller pronounced the end result as “…satisfying, beautiful, and homelike.” Guests at the grand opening included Governor George C. Peery, Mrs. Peery, and George C. Peery Jr., as well as Mrs. Goodwin.
By the 1940s, Colonial Williamsburg had established a variety of methods for marketing the museum to potential tourists, as well as published official guidebooks to the exhibition buildings and associated grounds. These examples of an early guidebook, admission ticket, postcards, and mini souvenir photo set illustrate the activities and exhibition buildings that guests could tour during the late 1930s and 1940s, as well as souvenirs they could purchase to remember their visit.
Methods of transporting guests to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area came under discussion as the museum’s reputation grew and visitation increased. In the early 1940s, the Advisory Committee of Architects considered the idea of using tractor trains to offer guests who could not walk long distances the option to take short rides to different sites. Architect Singleton P. Moorehead developed conceptual sketches based upon trains used to transport tourists at Versailles. Although never adopted, the idea is one of many creative solutions discussed for minimizing automobile traffic on Duke of Gloucester Street.
Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller officially opened the Williamsburg USO in Merchants Square on May 6, 1943. The couple established a fund to underwrite the Soldier and Sailor Training Program visits to Colonial Williamsburg by servicemen during World War II. They also demonstrated concern for the morale and welfare of local troops by attending activities at the USO.
Photo of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. with Servicemen at Opening of Williamsburg USO, May 1943.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Paint Shop played an important role in mixing authentic Colonial Williamsburg paint colors for use on various buildings in the Historic Area. This sample paint card for the James Semple House lists the variety of vivid colors used on the woodwork for the first floor living room and second floor hall. Painters J.V. Neal (left) and C. Freeman (right) work in the Paint Laboratory, where they selected paint samples, mixed paint colors, and even painted small signs, such as the one pictured for the King’s Arms Tavern.
Swedish statesman Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General of the United Nations, was the featured speaker at the Prelude to Independence ceremony on May 15, 1956. Held consecutively for many years at Colonial Williamsburg to commemorate the international significance of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the ceremonies featured many distinguished foreign dignitaries including a few United States presidents.
On March 31, 1957 the Information Center and Motor House opened and a new orientation film, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot premiered in specially designed twin theaters with two-and-a-half-story screens. Directed by George Seaton, a talented Hollywood director and writer who later became a Colonial Williamsburg trustee, the film starred Jack Lord as John Fry, a delegate to Virginia’s House of Burgesses who is struggling to decide whether to side with the patriots calling for revolution. Filmed onsite over a seventeen day period, the movie has inspired millions of visitors to Colonial Williamsburg and became an iconic piece of the museum’s history. A copy of the script, along with still photos of the film’s production, document the creative process involved in bringing the longest continually running motion picture in American film history to life.
Robertson’s Windmill opened in May 1957 on a site behind the Peyton Randolph House. A reproduction post-type mill named after an eighteenth-century Williamsburg miller, the structure offered visitors an opportunity to watch the machinery in operation from a platform. A miller named Lloyd Payne and an assistant demonstrated the operation of the mill and also ground cornmeal for purchase in souvenir bags such as this one. Bags of meal ground at the mill also supplied the Bake Shop and the Williamsburg Inn and Lodge kitchens. In 2010, Colonial Williamsburg carpenters disassembled the windmill, and in 2015, it was reassembled at Great Hopes Plantation after undergoing restoration.
Architect Singleton P. Moorehead (left) and Colonial Williamsburg President Kenneth Chorley (right) examine a model for Robertson’s Windmill created by Edward P. Hamilton of Milton, Massachusetts (center.)
On October 16, 1957, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Great Britain visited Williamsburg to participate in a commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown. After touring Jamestown Island and Jamestown Festival Park in the afternoon, the royal couple enjoyed tea at the President’s House at the College of William & Mary before proceeding by carriage to the Governor’s Palace. Virginia Governor Thomas Stanley and his wife hosted an evening reception in the Palace garden to honor The Queen and Prince Philip. Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop Rockefeller escorted the royal couple through the Governor’s Palace, where they both signed an official guest register.
The Great Game of Visiting Williamsburg, produced in 1958, offered children a souvenir to remember their tour of Colonial Williamsburg. Its object was to be the first person to make it around the perimeter of the board and visit the major sites at Colonial Williamsburg in the process. In 1960, the Williamsburg Reproductions catalog listed the game for sale for a mere $3.05.
The Golden Horseshoe Golf Course opened on September 11, 1963 to the south of the Williamsburg Inn. A championship course designed by Robert Trent Jones, it stretches over 125 acres and offers many challenging hazards, along with beautiful vistas. Grand opening ceremonies included a group tee off at the first hole, as well as a luncheon at the Williamsburg Inn with speeches by Colonial Williamsburg President Carlisle Humelsine, Vice President Rudy Bares and Golf Pro George Tinsley. Williamsburg Mayor H.M. Stryker hit the first official tee shot to inaugurate the course for players. In 1967, golf pro Jack Nicklaus achieved a new record low score for the course in an exhibition match against Vinnie Giles.
Norman Rockwell was hired to help with a marketing plan advertising the 1968 openings of Wetherburn’s Tavern, the James Geddy and the Peyton Randolph houses, as well as an interpretive program at the College of William and Mary’s Wren Building. Rockwell visited Williamsburg in March 1968 to sketch the historic buildings for use in advertising campaigns. This print of Wetherburn’s Tavern is an example of his work. The photograph offers a vista of the newly-restored front elevation as it appeared to visitors approaching on Duke of Gloucester Street.×
America’s Bicentennial celebrations drew record crowds to Colonial Williamsburg as Americans explored the colonial Virginia capital’s role in the events leading up to the American Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg hosted a number of special events to commemorate the festivities. These events are preserved in various programs and pamphlets. Scrapbooks created to document the year highlight moments such as President Gerald Ford’s visit to officially kick off the Bicentennial celebration.
A Banquet and Entertainment commemorating the 200th Anniversary of American Independence and the 50th Anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg, 1976.
A beloved television Christmas special filmed at Colonial Williamsburg in November 1978 featured host Perry Como and numerous well-known actors and musicians, including John Wayne, Eugene Fodor and Diana Canova. John Wayne and Perry Como shared some special moments together at the Governor's Palace during the filming segment captured in this photo. Wayne's role in the Christmas special would be one of his last prior to his death the following year.
When John D. Rockefeller came to Williamsburg on November 27, 1926 for the dedication of Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin took Rockefeller on a personal tour of the town that included a stop at Bassett Hall. Rockefeller admired the woods and Great Oak on the Bassett Hall property and inquired of Goodwin, “If I come back some day, can we bring our lunch down and eat it under the oak tree?” Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. moved into Bassett Hall in 1936 and used it as their seasonal residence while in Williamsburg. Due to a fire in 1930, the structure required extensive restoration work to bring it back to its eighteenth-century appearance. Architectural draftsmen George S. Campbell and David J. Hayes executed drawings of the proposed restoration. After its completion, the family enjoyed many years of visits to Bassett Hall. On April 1, 1979, John D. Rockefeller III willed Bassett Hall to Colonial Williamsburg. A year later, on June 15, 1980, Bassett Hall opened to the public as an exhibition building.
The 1980s marked the expansion of Colonial Williamsburg’s Coach and Livestock program under the direction of Richard Nicoll. He began introducing rare breeds into the groups of domestic animals on view in pastures and pulling carts, wagons, and carriages. They included a Leicester Longwool ram named Willoughby who died tragically in 1988. With the aid of an Australian sheep breeder, on February 3, 1990, a purebred flock of rare English Leicester sheep, imported from Tasmania, Australia, arrived at Colonial Williamsburg to start a fledgling flock. Animal News, an interdepartmental newsletter published by the Coach & Livestock Department in the late 1980s to early 1990s, documents the growth of the rare breeds program.×
The opening of the Bruton Heights School Education Center in 1997 marked an important milestone in the Foundation’s efforts to consolidate, organize, and provide better storage conditions for its museum and library collections, as well as to create a new complex for audiovisual productions, staff offices, and training class rooms. Planning for the campus included renovation of Bruton Heights School, a former African American educational facility, and construction of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library and the DeWitt Wallace Collections and Conservation Building. Former Colonial Williamsburg President Robert C. Wilburn described the new complex as a focal point for the Foundation’s future.
On November 20, 2009, Colonial Williamsburg hosted the R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse Opening Program and Ceremony. Built on its original foundations using 18th-century construction techniques and in compliance with modern building codes, R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse was the most significant reconstruction on Duke of Gloucester Street in fifty years, and the only 18th-century coffeehouse in America. It was funded by a $5 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Forrest E. Mars Jr.
In 2002, Colonial Williamsburg received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the research and design of the interpretive programs emphasizing the role of Native Americans in colonial Virginia. Over the course of the next few years, partnerships formed with American Indian communities brought in members of various tribes as actors to incorporate Native American perspectives. The 2012 “Return of the Cherokee” program included a one-time-only all-Native production, “The Beloved Woman.” “So Far from Scioto,” a scene from the Revolutionary City street theater program, portrayed a group of four Shawnee diplomatic hostages who came to meet with Governor Dunmore as the tribe’s gesture of peace after repeated raids on Virginia’s frontier settlements.
A gift from Forrest E. Mars Jr. funded the reconstruction of Williamsburg’s Market House on Market Square. Archaeologists, architectural historians, tradesmen, historians, and maintenance staff worked as a team to determine the exact location of the site, the appearance of the structure, and the methods and materials needed to reconstruct it. The completed site serves as a lively center for costumed interpreters and guests to interact in a recreation of the farmer’s market that once served as a focal point for shopping and socializing. Forrest and Jacomien Mars officially opened the Market House at a ribbon cutting ceremony on November 20, 2015 with assistance from President Mitchell Reiss and Board Chairman Tom Farrell.
In 2015, Colonial Williamsburg partnered with First Baptist Church to begin the process of restoring the church’s bell, known as the Freedom Bell, which had not been operational since the church moved from its old location on Nassau Street to Scotland Street. As part of African American History Month in 2016, Colonial Williamsburg and First Baptist Church held a joint commemorative service to celebrate the restoration of the bell and to launch a challenge to the nation to come ring the long-silent bell to promote justice, peace, and racial healing.
Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell Reiss noted “The Freedom Bell embodies both our shared history and our nation’s founding values as we work toward ‘a more perfect union.’” Colonial Williamsburg issued a challenge to its employees to sign up to ring the bell during the month of February 2016. Many groups of costumed interpreters rang it together, including the Nation Builders pictured. In September 2016, the bell traveled to Washington DC for the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama joined four generations of a family descended from slaves to ring the Freedom Bell in honor of the museum’s opening.
Program Cover for Let Freedom Ring Ceremony, First Baptist Church, Williamsburg, Virginia, February 1, 2016.
Order of Service for Let Freedom Ring Ceremony, First Baptist Church, Williamsburg, Virginia, February 1, 2016.