Williamsburg, Virginia facts for kids

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Williamsburg, Virginia
Independent city
City of Williamsburg
The Williamsburg Governor's Palace in 2000.
The Williamsburg Governor's Palace in 2000.
Official seal of Williamsburg, Virginia
Seal
Location in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Location in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Country  United States
State  Virginia
County None (Independent city)
Area
 • Total 24 km2 (9.1 sq mi)
 • Land 23 km2 (8.9 sq mi)
 • Water 1 km2 (0.2 sq mi)
Elevation 15 m (82 ft)
Population (2010)
 • Total 14,068
 • Estimate (2014) 14,691
 • Density 636.5/km2 (1,649/sq mi)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 23185-23188
Area code(s) 757
FIPS code 51-86160
GNIS feature ID 1498551
Website http://www.williamsburgva.gov/

Williamsburg is an independent city in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 14,068. In 2014, the population was estimated to be 14,691.

Located on the Virginia Peninsula, Williamsburg is in the northern part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. It is bordered by James City County and York County.

Williamsburg was founded in 1632 as Middle Plantation, a fortified settlement on high ground between the James and York rivers. The city served as the capital of the Colony of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and was the center of political events in Virginia leading to the American Revolution. The College of William & Mary, established in 1693, is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and the only one of the nine colonial colleges located in the South; its alumni include three U.S. presidents as well as many other important figures in the nation's early history.

The city's tourism-based economy is driven by Colonial Williamsburg, the restored Historic Area of the city. Along with nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg forms part of the Historic Triangle, which attracts more than four million tourists each year. Modern Williamsburg is also a college town, inhabited in large part by William & Mary students and staff.

History

Prior to the arrival of the English colonists at Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia in 1607, the area which became Williamsburg was within the territory of the Powhatan Confederacy. By the 1630s, English settlements had grown to dominate the lower (eastern) portion of the Virginia Peninsula, and the Powhatan tribes had abandoned their nearby villages. Between 1630 and 1633, after the war that followed the Indian Massacre of 1622, the English colonists constructed a defensive palisade across the peninsula and a settlement named Middle Plantation as a primary guard station along the palisade.

Jamestown was the original capital of Virginia Colony, but was burned down during the events of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. As soon as Governor William Berkeley regained control, temporary headquarters for the government to function were established about 12 miles (19 km) away on the high ground at Middle Plantation, while the Statehouse at Jamestown was rebuilt. The members of the House of Burgesses discovered that the 'temporary' location was both safer and more pleasant environmentally than Jamestown, which was humid and plagued with mosquitoes.

A school of higher education had long been an aspiration of the colonists. An early attempt at Henricus failed after the Indian Massacre of 1622. The location at the outskirts of the developed part of the colony had left it more vulnerable to the attack. In the 1690s, the colonists tried again to establish a school. They commissioned Reverend James Blair, who spent several years in England lobbying, and finally obtained a royal charter for the desired new school. It was to be named the College of William & Mary in honor of the monarchs of the time. When Reverend Blair returned to Virginia, the new school was founded in a safe place, Middle Plantation in 1693. Classes began in temporary quarters in 1694, and the College Building, a precursor to the Wren Building, was soon under construction.

Williamsburg as capital

Old Capitol Building - Williamsburg
Capitol Building
Williamsburgcapitol
Capitol Building, from a silver gelatin photograph, c. 1934–1950

Four years later, in 1698, the rebuilt Statehouse in Jamestown burned down again, this time accidentally. The government again relocated 'temporarily' to Middle Plantation, and in addition to the better climate now also enjoyed use of the College's facilities. The College students made a presentation to the House of Burgesses, and it was agreed in 1699 that the colonial capital should be permanently moved to Middle Plantation. A village was laid out and Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg in honor of King William III of England, befitting the town's newly elevated status.

Following its designation as the Capital of the Colony, immediate provision was made for construction of a capitol building and for plotting out the new city according to the survey of Theodorick Bland. His design utilized the extant sites of the College and the almost-new brick Bruton Parish Church as focal points, and placed the new Capitol building opposite the College, with Duke of Gloucester Street connecting them.

Alexander Spotswood, who arrived in Virginia as lieutenant governor in 1710, had several ravines filled and streets leveled, and assisted in erecting additional College buildings, a church, and a magazine for the storage of arms. In 1722, the town of Williamsburg was granted a royal charter as a city (now believed to be the oldest charter in the United States).

Middle Plantation was included in James City Shire when it was established in 1634, as the Colony reached a total population of approximately 5,000. (James City and the other shires in Virginia changed their names a few years later; James City Shire then became known as James City County). However, the middle ground ridge line was essentially the dividing line with Charles River Shire, which was renamed York County after King Charles I fell out of favor with the citizens of England. As Middle Plantation and later Williamsburg developed, the boundaries were adjusted slightly. For most of the colonial period, the border between the two counties ran down the center of Duke of Gloucester Street. During this time, and for almost 100 years after the formation of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States, despite practical complications, the town remained divided between the two counties.

Williamsburg was the site of the first attempted canal in the United States. In 1771, Lord Dunmore, who would turn out to be Virginia's last Royal Governor, announced plans to connect Archer's Creek, which leads to the James River with Queen's Creek, leading to the York River. It would have formed a water route across the Virginia Peninsula, but was not completed. Remains of this canal are visible at the rear of the grounds behind the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg.

The first purpose-built psychiatric hospital in the United States was founded in the city in the 1770s: 'Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds'. Known in modern times as Eastern State Hospital, it was established by Act of the Virginia colonial legislature on June 4, 1770. The Act to 'Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds' authorized the House of Burgesses to appoint a fifteen-man Court Of Directors to oversee the future hospital’s operations and admissions. In 1771, contractor Benjamin Powell constructed a two-story building on Francis Street near the College, capable of housing twenty-four patients. The design of the grounds included 'yards for patients to walk and take the Air in' as well as provisions for a fence to keep the patients out of the nearby town.

The Gunpowder Incident began in April 1775 as a dispute between Governor Dunmore and Virginia colonists over gunpowder stored in the Williamsburg magazine. Dunmore, fearing rebellion, ordered royal marines to seize gunpowder from the magazine. Virginia militia led by Patrick Henry responded to the 'theft' and marched on Williamsburg. A standoff ensued, with Dunmore threatening to destroy the city if attacked by the militia. The dispute was resolved when payment for the powder was arranged. This was an important precursor in the run-up to the American Revolution.

Following the Declaration of Independence from Britain, the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1776. During the War, the capital of Virginia was moved again, in 1780, this time to Richmond at the urging of then-Governor Thomas Jefferson, who feared Williamsburg's location made it vulnerable to a British attack. However, during the Revolutionary War Williamsburg retained its status as a venue for many important conventions.

Decline and the Civil War

Having lost the Capitol from 1780, Williamsburg was reduced in prominence, although not to the degree Jamestown had previously experienced. Another factor was travel: 18th and early 19th century transportation in the Colony was largely by canals and navigable rivers. As it had been built on 'high ground' Williamsburg was not sited on a major water route, unlike many early communities in the United States. The railroads which began to be built from the 1830s also did not yet come through the city.

Despite the loss to Williamsburg of the business activity involved in government, the College of William and Mary continued and expanded, as did the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, with the latter becoming known as Eastern State Hospital.

At the outset of the American Civil War (1861–1865), enlistments in the Confederate Army depleted the student body of the College of William and Mary and on May 10, 1861 the faculty voted to close the College for the duration of the conflict. The College Building was used as a Confederate barracks and later as a hospital, before being burned by Union forces in 1862.

The Williamsburg area saw combat in the spring of 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, an effort to take Richmond from the east from a base at Fort Monroe. Throughout late 1861 and early 1862, the small contingent of Confederate defenders was known as the Army of the Peninsula, and led by General John B. Magruder. He successfully created ruses which fooled the invaders as to the size and strength of his forces, and deterred their attack. Their subsequent slow movement up the peninsula gained valuable time for defenses to be constructed at the Confederate capital at Richmond.

In early May 1862, after holding the Union troops off for over a month, the defenders withdrew quietly from the Warwick Line (stretching across the Peninsula between Yorktown and Mulberry Island). As General George McClellan's Union forces crept up the Peninsula to pursue the retreating Confederate forces, a rear guard force led by General James Longstreet and supported by General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry blocked their westward progression at the Williamsburg Line. This was a series of 14 redoubts east of town, with earthen Fort Magruder (also known as Redoubt # 6) at the crucial junction of the two major roads leading to Williamsburg from the east. The design and construction had been overseen by Benjamin S. Ewell, the President of the College of William and Mary. He owned a farm in James City County, and had been commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army after the College closed in 1861.

At the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, the defenders succeeded in delaying the Union forces long enough for the retreating Confederates to reach the outer defenses of Richmond.

A siege of Richmond ensued, culminating in the Seven Days Battles. McClellan's campaign failed to capture Richmond. Meanwhile, on May 6, 1862 Williamsburg had fallen to the Union. The Brafferton building of the College was used for a time as quarters for the commanding officer of the Union garrison occupying the town. On September 9 that year, drunken soldiers of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry set fire to the College Building, allegedly to prevent Confederate snipers from using it for cover. Much damage was done to Williamsburg during the Union occupation, which lasted until September 1865.

Late 19th century

Trackside at Williamsburg Transportation Center 2-03-2008
Williamsburg Transportation Center is an intermodal facility located in a restored Chesapeake and Ohio Railway station located within walking distance of Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area, the College of William and Mary, and the downtown area.

About 20 years later, in 1881, Collis P. Huntington's Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O) built its Peninsula Extension through the area, eventually establishing six stations in Williamsburg and the surrounding area. The Peninsula Extension was good news for the farmers and merchants of the Virginia Peninsula, and they generally welcomed the railroad, which aided passenger travel and shipping. Williamsburg allowed tracks to be placed down the main street of town, Duke of Gloucester Street, and even directly through the ruins of the historic capitol building. (They were later relocated, and Collis Huntington's real estate arm, Old Dominion Land Company, eventually donated the historic site to the forerunner of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.)

However, the main business purpose for the new railroad was unquestionably shipping eastbound West Virginia bituminous coal to Newport News. Using the new coal piers, it was loaded aboard large colliers in the harbor of Hampton Roads for shipment to New England and export destinations worldwide.

Due in no small part to the tireless efforts of its president, Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, education continued at the College of William and Mary, although teaching was temporarily suspended for financial reasons from 1882 until 1886. Ewell's efforts to restore the historic school and its programs during and after Reconstruction became legendary in Williamsburg and at the College and were ultimately successful, with funding from both the U.S. Congress and the Commonwealth of Virginia. After 1886, the College became a state school. Benjamin Ewell remained in Williamsburg as President Emeritus of the College until his death in 1894.

Beginning in the 1890s, C&O land agent Carl M. Bergh, a Norwegian-American who had earlier farmed in the mid-western states, realized that the gentler climate of eastern Virginia and depressed post-Civil War land prices would be attractive to his fellow Scandinavians who were farming in other northern parts of the country. He began sending out notices, and selling land. Soon there was a substantial concentration of relocated Americans of Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish descent in the area. The location earlier known as Vaiden's Siding on the railroad just west of Williamsburg in James City County, was renamed Norge. These citizens and their descendants found the area conditions favorable as described by Bergh, and many became leading merchants, tradespersons, and farmers in the community. These transplanted Americans brought some new blood and enthusiasm to the old colonial capitol area.

Revival

Colonial Williamsburg11
Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg was still a sleepy little town in the early 20th century. Some newer structures were interspersed with colonial-era buildings, but the town was much less progressive than other busier communities of similar size in Virginia. Some local lore indicates that the residents were satisfied with it that way, and longtime Virginia Peninsula journalist, author and historian Parke S. Rouse Jr. has pointed this out in his published work. On June 26, 1912, the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper ran an editorial which dubbed the town 'Lotusburg' for "Tuesday was election day in Williamsburg but nobody remembered it. The clerk forgot to wake the electoral board, the electoral board could not arouse itself long enough to have the ballots printed, the candidates forgot they were running, the voters forgot they were alive."

However, even if such complacency existed, a dream of one Episcopal priest was to expand and change Williamsburg's future thus providing it a new major purpose, turning much of it into a massive living museum. In the early 20th century, one of the largest historic restorations ever undertaken in the US was championed by the Reverend Dr W.A.R. Goodwin of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church. Initially, Dr Goodwin had just aimed to save his historic church building. This he accomplished by 1907, in time for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Episcopal Church in Virginia. However, upon returning to Williamsburg in 1923 after serving a number of years in upstate New York, he realized that many of the other colonial-era buildings which remained were also in deteriorating condition: their survival was at stake.

Goodwin dreamed of a much larger restoration along the lines of what he had accomplished with his historic church. A cleric of modest means, he sought support and financing from a number of sources before successfully attracting the interest and major financial support of Standard Oil heir and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Their combined efforts created Colonial Williamsburg, involving restoration of much of the downtown Williamsburg area and the creation of a 301-acre (1.22 km2) Historic Area, celebrating the patriots and the early history of America.

Today, Colonial Williamsburg is Virginia's largest tourist attraction (based upon attendance) and is the cornerstone of the Historic Triangle with Jamestown and Yorktown joined by the Colonial Parkway. In the 21st century, Williamsburg has continued to update and refine its attractions. There are more features designed to attract modern children and to offer better and additional interpretation of the African-American experience in the town. A century after Dr. Goodwin's work began, this masterpiece of Virginia and United States history remains a remarkable work-in-progress.

In addition to the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg, the city's railroad station was restored to become an intermodal passenger facility (see Transportation section below). Nearby in James City County, the old c. 1908 C&O Railway combination passenger and freight station at Norge was preserved and with a donation from CSX Transportation was relocated in 2006 to a site at the Croaker Branch of the Williamsburg Regional Library. Other landmarks outside the historic area include Carter's Grove and Gunston Hall.

G-7 Summit 1983
9th G7 Summit of 1983 in front of the Historic Capitol Building

Recent history

The third of three debates between Republican President Gerald Ford and Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter was held at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at The College of William & Mary on October 22, 1976. Perhaps in tribute to the debate’s historic venue, as well as to the United States Bicentennial celebration, both candidates spoke of a "new spirit" in America.

The 9th G7 Summit was held in Williamsburg in 1983. The summit participants discussed the growing debt crisis, arms control and greater co-operation between the Soviet Union and the G7 (now the G8). At the end of the meeting, Secretary of State George P. Shultz read to the press a statement confirming the deployment of American Pershing II-nuclear rockets in West Germany later in 1983.

On May 3, 2007 Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visited Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia. Her previous visit to Williamsburg had been in 1957. Many world leaders,

On February 5, 2009, President Barack Obama took his first trip aboard Air Force One to a House Democrats retreat in the city to attend and address their “Issues Conference.”

Geography and climate

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.1 square miles (23.6 km2), of which 8.9 square miles (23.1 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km2) (1.8%) is water.

Williamsburg is spread upon a ridge on the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York Rivers. Queen's Creek and College Creek partly encircle the city. James City County is located to the west and south of Williamsburg, while York County is to the north and east. As with all cities in Virginia, Williamsburg is legally independent of both counties.

The city is located on the I-64 corridor, 45 miles (72 km) southeast of Richmond and approximately 37 miles (60 km) northwest of Norfolk. It is in the northwest corner of Hampton Roads, which is the 37th largest metropolitan area in the United States with a total population of 1,576,370. Within Hampton Roads, the city of Norfolk is recognized as the central business district, while the Virginia Beach seaside resort district and Williamsburg are primarily centers of tourism.

Williamsburg is located in the humid subtropical climate zone, with cool to mild winters, and hot, humid summers. Due to the inland location, winters are slightly cooler and spring days slightly warmer than in Norfolk, though lows average 3.2 °F (1.8 °C) cooler here due to the substantial urban build-up to the southeast. Snowfall averages 5.1 inches (13 cm) per season, and the summer months tend to be slightly wetter. With a period of record dating only back to 1951, extreme temperatures range from −7 °F (−22 °C) on January 21, 1985 to 104 °F (40 °C) on August 22, 1983 and June 26, 1952.

Climate data for Williamsburg, Virginia (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 47.4
(8.56)
51.0
(10.56)
59.2
(15.11)
69.3
(20.72)
76.4
(24.67)
83.8
(28.78)
87.3
(30.72)
85.3
(29.61)
79.4
(26.33)
69.9
(21.06)
60.9
(16.06)
50.7
(10.39)
68.4
(20.22)
Average low °F (°C) 29.6
(-1.33)
31.5
(-0.28)
37.7
(3.17)
46.4
(8)
55.5
(13.06)
64.3
(17.94)
68.8
(20.44)
67.6
(19.78)
61.4
(16.33)
49.8
(9.89)
40.7
(4.83)
32.7
(0.39)
48.8
(9.33)
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.70
(94)
3.25
(82.6)
4.33
(110)
3.70
(94)
4.00
(101.6)
3.33
(84.6)
5.43
(137.9)
5.25
(133.4)
4.90
(124.5)
3.46
(87.9)
3.27
(83.1)
3.55
(90.2)
48.16
(1,223.3)
Snowfall inches (cm) 1.8
(4.6)
2.1
(5.3)
0.2
(0.5)
0.1
(0.3)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0.3
(0.8)
0.6
(1.5)
5.1
(13)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.2 9.3 10.2 10.2 10.5 9.6 11.8 10.3 8.6 7.8 8.8 10.2 117.6
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.6 0.7 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.3 2.0
Source: NOAA

Demographics

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1820 1,402
1850 877
1860 1,113 26.9%
1870 1,392 25.1%
1880 1,480 6.3%
1890 1,831 23.7%
1900 2,044 11.6%
1910 2,714 32.8%
1920 2,462 −9.3%
1930 3,778 53.5%
1940 3,942 4.3%
1950 6,735 70.9%
1960 6,832 1.4%
1970 9,069 32.7%
1980 9,870 8.8%
1990 11,530 16.8%
2000 11,998 4.1%
2010 14,068 17.3%
Est. 2015 15,052 25.5%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013
USA Williamsburg city, Virginia age pyramid
Age distribution in Williamsburg

As of the census of 2010, there were 14,068 people, 3,619 households, and 1,787 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,404.1 people per square mile (542.4/km²). There were 3,880 housing units at an average density of 454.1 per square mile (175.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 74.0% White, 14.0% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 5.7% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 2.5% from other races, and 3.5% from two or more races. 6.7% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.

There were 3,619 households out of which 16.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.2% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.6% were non-families. 35.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.4% had someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.07 and the average family size was 2.66.

The age distribution was: 9.6% under the age of 18, 46.0% from 18 to 24, 17.7% from 25 to 44, 15.0% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23 years. For every 100 females there were 81.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,093, and the median income for a family was $52,358. Males had a median income of $28,625 versus $26,840 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,483. 18.3% of the population and 9.3% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 29.7% of those under the age of 18 and 5.5% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Williamsburg is notable for the fact that a high proportion of city residents derive a significant percentage of their annual income from investment sources, either in addition to or in lieu of income from work. This is because many retirees relocate to Williamsburg, who typically draw income from investments such as 401(k) plans and the like (see also retirement community).

Culture

As with most of Virginia (the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. metro area being the notable exception), Williamsburg is most often associated with the larger American South. People who have grown up in the Hampton Roads area have a unique Tidewater accent which sounds different from a stereotypical Southern accent. Vowels have a longer pronunciation than in a regular southern accent. For example, "house" is pronounced "hoose" in the Tidewater accent. However, due to the strong military presence in the Tidewater Area, the Tidewater accent has been slowly dying out for years.

Colonial Williamsburg Duke of Gloucester Street
View of Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg.

Williamsburg is perhaps best known for its tourist and historical points of interest, the centerpiece of which is Colonial Williamsburg, which is essentially a living history museum, depicting the lifestyles and culture of the 18th century colonial period in American history. Major points of interest in this historic district include the Virginia's first capitol building, the Governor's Palace, Bruton Parish Church (the oldest continually operating church in the United States), the Peyton Randolph House (home of Peyton Randolph, the first President of Continental Congress and rumored to be haunted) and The College of William & Mary.

Other highlights in the city include The Williamsburg Winery (Virginia's largest winery), the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, the National Center for State Courts and the Virginia Musical Museum. Also located in Williamsburg are two major theme parks, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA, as well as Go-Karts Plus action park and 2 miniature golf courses. The 200-acre (0.81 km2) Williamsburg Pottery Factory shopping complex visited by 3 million people annually is located at nearby Lightfoot, Virginia. "Artistic" and ornamental items are sold at the Market Square shops adjacent to the colonial area, and at many stores on Richmond Road. Presidents Park was an educational attraction that displayed outdoor statue heads of all 43 presidents, each one accompanied by a descriptive biographical plaque. However, in the 2010, Presidents Park closed due to financial issues.

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