Browse through the Colonial Williamsburg Archives by clicking on a letter below.
Imagine getting a chance to work alongside such luminaries as Ansel Adams and Norman Rockwell.
During the 1930s, the Foundation wanted photos of the restoration and decided to seek outside contracts. Ansel Adams responded, but wasn’t hired. The letter Adams received, which noted that the organization was sorry it was “not able to utilize your services,” is on file in the Archives and Records Department.
Norman Rockwell was hired to help with a marketing plan that advertised the 1968 openings of the James Geddy, Wetherburn’s Tavern and the Peyton Randolph houses, as well as an interpretive program at the Wren.
Rockwell visited Williamsburg in March 1968 to sketch the historic buildings for use in advertising campaigns. These prints are examples of his work.×
Here’s an example of attention to details.
Colonial Williamsburg began buying hundreds of boxwoods in the 1920s – small, large and huge ‒ from private homes all over the Southeast.
They often arrived on flatbed rail cars and 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.
The remarkable details provide a valuable source of information about pre- and post-restoration for historians seeking information.×
An 1990s advertising campaign combined tongue-in-cheek humor with a message. And that message was:
Go ahead ‒ tell us those 88-inch hips didn’t catch your eye!×
Fifty leaders – all exiled from Eastern and Central European countries ‒ took a human-rights stand here on June 12, 1952. With a vow to liberate their nations from communism, they put their names to the Williamsburg Declaration at Colonial Williamsburg’s Capitol on the 176th anniversary of the signing of Virginia’s Bill of Rights.
“When the Communist governments of these lands are overthrown,” they pledged to restore the principles of liberty to their countries.×
Colonial Williamsburg’s award-winning Electronic Field Trips combine live programming with classroom resources. There have been more than 60 premieres and more than 100 broadcasts developed primarily for fourth- to eighth-graders since the effort to excite and inspire students started in 1995.
The programs tell American history stories from the colonial era to the present day. There’s even social media for kids who want to pose questions to historians via Twitter.×
Bill Casterline wrote the book on the subject – literally. “From the Road to Boston to the World Turned Upside Down,” published in 2008, is the 1969 Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums graduate’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Fifes and Drums Corps. Casterline conducted extensive research in Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Archives.×
It was Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin’s dream to restore Virginia’s colonial capital. On Feb. 15, 1935, Williamsburg’s citizens recognized Goodwin for his role in making that dream come true.
Goodwin was honored as the father of the restoration by more than 300 people, including Gov. George Peery, who gathered at a dinner at the College of William and Mary. Among the gifts – a testimonial scroll with thanks and appreciation from the Williamsburg community.×
Sometimes it is the people behind the scenes who make a tremendous difference. This is one example – Elizabeth Hayes, who was Dr. W.A. R. Goodwin’s assistant, collected photos and notes relevant to the restoration in a carefully maintained notebook ‒ “Historical Notes and Tentative Suggestions Relative to the Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, Capital of Colonial Virginia.”
Filled with fascinating photos and notes about the historic buildings and the College of William and Mary, the book was used to encourage John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to consider funding the restoration project when he visited Williamsburg in May of 1927.×
The Williamsburg Inn opened April 3, 1937.
“This really is a splendid achievement,” said John D. Rockefeller. “There never was a finer, more loyal organization. I am proud of every member of it.”
This dinner menu from May 3, 1939, offers a glimpse of the fine dining that visitors could expect.
The options included a fresh pineapple mint cup, jellied tomato bouillon, grilled breast of guinea hen, buttered beets and Martha Washington cream pie. Coffee, mints and cigarettes were offered as a post-dinner treat … all for $2.25.×
Once upon a time, there was a humble newsletter named “Colonial Williamsburg Today.”
That was in 1978.
Today, that “newsletter” has evolved into a full-color quarterly publication.
The name was changed in 1984 to “The Journal” and its current circulation is about 110,000.×
The Williamsburg Theatre, which opened in 1933, was home to movies and plays. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby enjoyed taking guests there. When they visited Williamsburg, the Rockefellers often walked home from the theatre on warm evenings ‒ a rare treat for one of the most famous couples in the United States.
This 1950 advertisement promotes “Twelve O’Clock High,” an American war film -- and it is signed by the film’s star, Gregory Peck.
The theatre was restored in 2001 and renamed for Bill and Gretchen Kimball, who provided the funds for its restoration.×
From 1962 to 2010, visiting dignitaries from around the world stayed at the Lightfoot House, a stately Georgian townhouse. The original structure, built around 1730, was a 2 ½ -story brick double tenement and was crafted to its present form in 1750.
The building was privately occupied until 1961 when Colonial Williamsburg Foundation restored and furnished the townhouse with 18th-century antiques as an official residence for visiting dignitaries. Today, the house is used as a private residence.
Guests often left poignant entries in the guestbook, as Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez did in 1977.
“Williamsburg gives us an image of the United States which is both noble and beautiful and which affirms our faith that this great country can do much to bring happiness to the world.”×
This broadside gave public notice of a Williamsburg town meeting on June 12, 1928. At this meeting, a long-held secret was divulged: All who attended learned that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was the restoration’s mysterious benefactor.
The City of Williamsburg approved transfer of Market Square and Palace Green to Colonial Williamsburg, Inc. after approval by the citizens attending the meeting.×
In April 1937, National Geographic Magazine featured the Colonial Williamsburg Restoration project in three lengthy articles co-written by John D. Rockefeller and Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin. The magazine’s photographers also contributed a photo essay.
This prominent feature on Colonial Williamsburg helped to spark nationwide interest and increased the focus on the restoration.×
The Archives and Records Department has long maintained an oral history program that seeks to document all aspects of the organization’s history.
The collection, which includes more than 150 transcripts, covers the Foundation’s administration and management, architecture, interpretation, communications, historic trades, hospitality, products, and pre- and post-restoration Williamsburg.
The collection includes the bound transcript of Bela Norton, who served as Colonial Williamsburg’s director and vice president of public relations, and eventually rose to executive vice president in the Department of Administration.
Norton’s 1956 oral history includes reminiscences of a visit by Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower to Williamsburg in 1946.×
The Archives and Records Department maintains a small collection of donated postcards.
This 1908 street scene depicts Williamsburg as it would have looked when Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin served his first term as rector of Bruton Parish Church.×
One visit just wasn’t enough. Queen Elizabeth II came to Williamsburg twice and each trip coincided with an anniversary of the Jamestown settlement.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip of England came to Williamsburg in October of 1957 for the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. That trip included a royal ride in “Sociables,” one of Colonial Williamsburg’s horse-drawn carriages.
In May of 2007, the couple returned for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. They rode in a carriage from the Capitol to the Williamsburg Inn, had lunch at the Governor’s Palace and attended ceremonies at the College of William and Mary.
Colonial Williamsburg historic trade artisans presented the queen with two examples of their handiwork ‒ a sterling saffron pot and a specially bound copy of “1607: Jamestown and the New World,” a compilation of articles by historians and journalists that appeared in Colonial Williamsburg’s Journal.×
Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin’s search for funding for his vision of restoring Williamsburg initially led him to Henry Ford. In a 1924 letter, Goodwin invited Edsel and Henry Ford to visit and see “the unique opportunity which this place presents to do a spectacular thing. …”
Goodwin’s letter included a personal observation that may not have been so well received: “Unfortunately you and your father are at present the chief contributors to the destruction of this city.” Edsel and Henry Ford politely declined the invitation.
Goodwin had better luck with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Not only did Rockefeller and his wife Abby agree to fund the restoration, but a close relationship was forged in the process.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. expressed what the restoration meant to him in a letter to Goodwin: “I feel, with you, increasingly satisfied as to its importance and worth whileness.”
“My life has been greatly enriched because of the associations that this work has developed,” Rockefeller continued. “Among these associations my relationship with you has been the most significant and the happiest.”×
Colonial Williamsburg guest registries chronicle the visits of dignitaries, presidents, nobility and entertainers to Williamsburg.
Clark Gable signed the register at the Governor’s Palace on Aug. 24, 1936. Walt Disney put his famous autograph on the Travis House register in 1944. Margaret Thatcher’s signatures at the Lightfoot House date to 2000.
Some of the signatures need translation, which thankfully we have. An example from 1985: “His Imperial Highness Prince Naruhito – oldest son of the crown prince of Japan. …”
George H.W. Bush was here in 1981, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton came in 1993 and even Shirley Temple Black visited as “Chief of Protocol of the U.S.A” in 1976.×
The "David's Father" telegram ‒ dated Dec. 7, 1926 ‒ from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. authorizes Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin to purchase the Ludwell-Paradise House. It was the first purchase of Williamsburg property by Goodwin and marked the beginning of the Restoration project.
In order to honor Rockefeller’s request for anonymity, the telegram employed vague language ‒ the "antique" was the house itself and "David’s Father" was a reference to Rockefeller.
The telegram was sent in response to Goodwin's Dec. 4 letter notifying Rockefeller that the house was about to be put on the market.×
What did some of the early Williamsburg Inn staff uniforms look like? The Archives and Records Department has several sketches submitted to Colonial Williamsburg by the Brooks Costume Company of New York. They show a summer uniform option, as well as a more formal military–style design to be worn for special events or national holidays.×
Colonial Williamsburg opened its “New Visitor Facilities” in 1957. It featured what was then a state-of-the-art “Information Center and Motor House.” Two movie theaters, each seating 250 people, premiered the new film, “Williamsburg – The Story of a Patriot.”
Visitors could get information about the seven exhibition buildings and 11 colonial craft shops that were the Historic Area at that time. There were also nine exhibits that helped interpret the 18th-century restored city.
In 1984, the name was changed to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.
And in 2011, the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center was re-designed to include a number of modern displays and multimedia stations and is now known as the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center.×
The Archives and Records Department maintains a collection of the licensed manufacturers’ wallpaper reproductions catalogues. Many patterns are designed as reproductions of popular wallpaper trends of the 18th and 19th centuries.×
(Didn’t you wonder what we would find for X?)
Qian Xinzhong, minister of public health from China, visited Williamsburg in June 1980, touring the Historic Area with stops at the Capitol, Apothecary Shop, Print Shop and the Governor’s Palace.×
It was Christmas Eve 1940 when the Yule Log Ceremony was first established at the Williamsburg hotels, thanks to a helpful guest who stayed at the Lodge the previous Christmas. The Yule Log Ceremony became a tradition that continues to this day. The guest’s letter to the hospitality staff included a rich description of his concept.
“Why not make peaceful Williamsburg the land to which these Santas may travel. … May I suggest … bringing in the Yule Log on Christmas Eve along with sprays of holly and mistletoe. The servants [are] to be in colonial costumes. Each guest might be given a spray of holly to wear.”
The Yule Log Ceremony dates to early England. Christmas wishes are made in a second ceremony several days later. More information was available in this 1951 brochure.×
Shomer Zwelling, former research associate at Colonial Williamsburg, studied the history of mental health care offered at the Williamsburg Public Hospital from 1773-1885.
He designed the exhibition area for the reconstructed hospital and wrote the book, “Quest for a Cure, The Public Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia 1773-1885.”
This rare glimpse into the history of mental health care in the 18th and 19th centuries provides an interesting look at what was often deemed a taboo subject.×