One visit to Colonial Williamsburg and it is hard not to stand back and be impressed by what is indeed a thrilling and awesome achievement. Once home to the budding ideas of independence and democracy and a catalyst to revolution, this historic town was literally restored from the ground up. Today it is a living and working town on 301 acres, with over 500 historic buildings. But more than just a snapshot of 18th-century life, Colonial Williamsburg serves as a testament to a time when colonists started down the path toward becoming Americans. The motivating force behind the town's ongoing operation is the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a group of dedicated men and women with shared values and a shared mission:
To help the future learn from the past...
To understand the Foundation's goals, you must know Colonial Williamsburg's history:
After serving as the capital of Britain's largest and most powerful colony and then as the seat of Virginia's government, Williamsburg saw history's path veer away. When Richmond became Virginia's new capital in 1780, Williamsburg was left a quiet country town with fond but fading memories. Later, the Civil War left scars in Williamsburg, but neither time nor war could extinguish its brilliance.
The town stirred excitement in the Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin when he arrived in 1903 as rector of Bruton Parish Church. On evening walks, he sensed the patriots' unseen presence. "They were glad and gallant ghosts," he wrote, "companions of the silent hour of reverie." Inspired, Dr. Goodwin pursued a dream of restoring his beloved town.
In 1926, one man's tireless quest met another's visionary generosity. Philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., undertook restoration of the colonial capital on a scale never before attempted in American history.
Legions of architects, archaeologists, and historians worked with masses of data. The earth yielded old foundations, walls, and cellars. Buried fragments of marble, brick, hardware, and tiles rendered authentic architectural and ornamental clues. When, in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the restoration, he told the nation, "The atmosphere of a whole glorious chapter in our history has been recaptured."
Today, the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg is both a museum and a living city. Many of the restored and reconstructed homes and outbuildings are residences for Colonial Williamsburg's employees. And each year, nearly three million visitors join in the work of Mr. Rockefeller and Dr. Goodwin. Each purchase of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation tickets, lodging, meals, goods, or services is an investment in ongoing preservation, research, and education efforts. By supporting the nonprofit Foundation, each visitor helps to ensure that new generations may stand in wonder, touched by the lives, legends, and lessons of Williamsburg.
© 2003 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation