- Historic Sites
The Town That Stopped The Clock
A noted newspaperman writes of his birthplace, a community in which time stood still—and then started backwards
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
A more subtle—and possibly more pervasive—antipathy grows out of the inevitable evolution of Williamsburg from a shrine to a spectacle. There is a muted and ever-so-sophisticated touch of show business about the place—the costumes of the hostesses and lackeys; the elaborate napkin-around-the-neck ritual of the eating places; the slightly comic sunset-gun ceremony before the Powder Magazine; the aseptic implausibility of so much fresh paint and polished brass and tidy lawns and prim table settings—one begins almost to look for the Seal of Approval from Good Housekeeping ! It can be argued, of course, that these embellishments are necessary to “round out the picture.” Well, maybe so, but the effect is to make the portrait a little larger than life.
But most Williamsburgers today are content with the fate that history and the Rockefellers have lavished upon them. It gives them a good life and a stable future—and a still-heady sense of identity with the past. Colonial Williamsburg, Incorporated, owns 130 acres along the center axis of the town—the main historical area—and a protective cordon of nearly 3,000 acres around it. It has restored 83 buildings surviving from the eighteenth century, and 430 others of every size and description have been faithfully reconstructed, most of them on their original foundations. Some 720 unwanted modern structures have been demolished to make way for them, and 83 acres of gardens and greens have been created. The total cost to date has been $62,800,000, and in addition an endowment of approximately $50,000,000 has been created by the Rockefellers to keep Williamsburg a going enterprise and to soak up its annual operating deficit of around $500,000. Before this year ends, close to one million visitorsschool children, sightseers, foreign potentates—will pass through the town, the majority to stay at least one night and to inspect the principal exhibits, and to take away with them the Lord knows what wisdom and what impressions.
He who will may ponder the cultural significance of these facts. For myself, I prefer to reflect upon the pleasures of having a home town which has done so well for itself, in a regressive sort of way.