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CW Journal : Winter 00-01 : Message From The President

Message From The President

Seventy-Five Years of Preserving a Past for the Future

Colin G. Campbell Chairman and President

Kelly Mihalcoe

With the coming of the new year, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation begins a twelve-month celebration of its seventy-fifth anniversary. The calendar is crowded with commemorative events that reflect not only what has been accomplished but also our hopes for the future.

Anniversaries are benchmarks, points in time from which to measure where we have been and where we are going. Since 1926, when the Reverend Doctor W. A. R. Goodwin shared with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. the dream of restoring this eighteenth-century city, Colonial Williamsburg has come farther than even those two visionaries imagined. Indeed, by the end of 1934—the year President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the Duke of Gloucester Street "the most historic avenue in all America"—Goodwin considered the Restoration "substantially complete."

It had only begun.

Had the work stopped there, for example, neither the Wythe House nor Wetherburn's Tavern, would have been restored. There would be no reconstructed Chowning's, no Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, no restored Thomas Everard House, not a Visitor Center, nor much of what today is integral to the Colonial Williamsburg experience.

By 1976, when Mr. Rockefeller's granddaughter and her husband—George and Abby O'Neill—underwrote the celebration of the Foundation's fiftieth anniversary, it was apparent the Restoration could never quite be finished. As knowledge and understanding of the past improved, as successive generations of scholars examined old facts in new light, they saw that Colonial Williamsburg would always be a work in progress.

And a perpetual exercise in historic preservation.

Every year brought, as they still bring, more and more Americans to Williamsburg's Historic Area to discover a past we have in common. More and more foreign visitors came, as they still come, to learn at the Capitol and the Raleigh Tavern, how and why America created a system of government to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." All came, as they do yet, for lessons in the possibilities of republican democracy, for instruction in colonial culture, for an understanding of our antecedents. I am constantly reminded by the presence of our visitors that, first and foremost, Colonial Williamsburg is an educational enterprise, a non-profit teaching institution that every day welcomes another class of students to its 173-acre campus.

It is, however, a campus of irreplaceable homes, rare furniture, and the antique accouterments of everyday life—all of which must be protected and conserved for the instruction of the class that will come tomorrow.

The 1976 anniversary celebration, which coincided with the Bicentennial, launched twenty-five more years of study, refinement, and expansion, and brought more than a million visitors a year. There was from then on a difference, however; America at large was now invited to participate in the work Mr. Rockefeller began. That year the Foundation opened a development office, its first organized effort to empower all of Colonial Williamsburg's admirers to associate themselves with Mr. Rockefeller's undertaking; to help preserve the prize he provided for his country; to join in supporting the institution he left to the nation.

The response was extraordinary.

Through the generosity of such men and women as DeWitt and Lila Wallace, George V. Grune and the staff of the Reader's Digest; Ambassador Walter and Lee Annenberg; Joe and June Hennage; William and Gretchen Kimball—as well as, of course, the Rockefeller family—the Foundation has today such essential facilities as the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, the DeWitt Wallace Collections Building, and Carter's Grove. It has made the Governor's Palace a showplace of eighteenth-century decorative arts authenticity, constructed the Winthrop Rockefeller Archaeological Museum, built the Bruton Heights School Education Center, created the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library, and refurbished the Kimball Theater.

No less central to Colonial Williamsburg's success are the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who join Foundation donor societies, include it their estate plans, and who make annual gifts, large and small, to carry the enterprise forward. Such philanthropy helps to people the Historic Area with costumed interpreters trained in a core curriculum of eighteenth-century history, bring its streets alive with wagons and coaches, and stock its pastures with rare eighteenth-century breeds.

The 2001 anniversary celebration, which coincides with the opening of a millennium, shows Colonial Williamsburg's donors a wider horizon of opportunities to participate. In September, the Foundation intends to launch its first comprehensive campaign, the Campaign for Colonial Williamsburg.

It is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar drive to solicit support for the purpose, the people, and the place of Colonial Williamsburg. Quiet-phase contributions in excess of $200 million are already on the campaign ledgers. The board of trustees is considering a campaign goal more than twice as large; our needs are great, and so must be our ambitions. Success requires leadership gifts. We have to be diligent to accomplish our objectives, and we have to depend on individuals who are willing to stretch beyond what they might provide in ordinary years.

The years Colonial Williamsburg memorializes were hardly ordinary years.

Consider: Virginia's General Assembly incorporated Williamsburg in 1699 for the colony's capital, and so it served until 1780. Those are the years—the eighty-one years—Mr. Rockefeller and Doctor Goodwin restored to us, years when the city's population was roughly 2,000. The Restoration now brings more than 2,000 people to town on an ordinary summer day. Some of the buildings they tour are almost 300 years old, and many of the reconstructions are seventy-five, a growing preservation responsibility in itself.

Our challenge is to preserve those buildings, this place, that time, so that the children of today's visitors, and their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, and the generations that will follow have the opportunity to walk through their past. Our challenge is to ensure that the Historic Area is always staffed by skilled interpreters, trained to teach the story of how we became Americans. Our challenge is to broadcast that story to classrooms across the continent through electronic field trips, to teach those lessons through video and audio recordings, the Internet, and the technologies that will follow.

The issue of the journal you are reading carries a feature story about the first of the seventy-fifth anniversary events, the Foundation's loan exhibition at the Forty-Seventh Winter Antiques Show in New York's Seventh Regiment Armory in January. It, like the story, is named "'The Best Is Not Too Good For You:' Colonial Williamsburg Celebrates 75 Years of Collecting." The article is the first of a series of anniversary stories that is to run through next winter.

Among the seventy-fifth-anniversary focused Williamsburg events to follow are the Antiques Forum in January; the launch of Historic Area Restoration Tours in March; the Colonial Williamsburg Burgess meetings in March and November; the completion of the Visitor Center additions and renovations in April; the Raleigh Tavern Society meeting in May; the Independence Day Celebration, and opening of the new Woodlands in July; the reopening of the Williamsburg Inn in September; the National Council, Raleigh Tavern Society, and Colonial Williamsburg Associates meetings in October; and the Grand Illumination in December. Our Campaign for Colonial Williamsburg progress is to be reported in a campaign section of the journal to be inaugurated next autumn.

The Foundation will, however, do more than meet and talk and write about what it has done and intends to do. In a project that combines seventy-fifth anniversary history with campaign purposes, Colonial Williamsburg has already begun the renovation of Bassett Hall, the eighteenth-century farmhouse that was the Rockefeller's getaway home. We are revising and expanding its reception center exhibit to better tell the Restoration story and the Rockefellers's vitally important part in it. The plans include the restoration of Abby Rockefeller's garden, the restoration and furnishing of the outbuildings the Rockefeller's used, and the opening of more of their home to visitors. The idea is to convey more of the sense of how the family used Bassett Hall and communicate the warmth and hospitality for which it was treasured by townspeople. The work is to be done and the house re-opened in September, and, yes, if you were wondering, it is among the urgent projects on the campaign agenda.

Early on, Doctor Goodwin, the Foundation's first development officer, shared with Mr. Rockefeller, the Foundation's first donor, a favorite line from literature, a John Ruskin epigram. It read: "It is our duty to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves those things that shall be true for the future."

Those twenty-nine words are the sum of Doctor Goodwin's idea of Colonial Williamsburg; the expression of his dream that most appealed to Mr. Rockefeller. It almost became the Foundation's motto. On people privileged by the opportunity to help sustain that idea, that duty weighs heavily indeed. It is not, however, the duty alone of the men and women who have made that dream their work. It is a duty, a responsibility, to be shared by all of us who cherish this historic city and the values for which it stands.

It is my great good fortune to have the honor not only of leading Colonial Williamsburg through its seventy-fifth anniversary, but its historic core into its third century. My guide is the goal Mr. Rockefeller himself captured when he penned the Foundation's motto: "That the future may learn from the past."

It is a goal he realized. If his achievement is to be maintained, your participation is indispensable.

Colin Campbell signature

Colin G. Campbell