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Welcome to Williamsburg: origins of our historic American city

Wide Landscape Shot of Governor's Palace in Williamsburg VA

A strong sense of American values and tradition pervades Williamsburg. Virginia. The very roots of America may be found in the heart of the city.

Williamsburg’s origins extend far back into the earliest settlers known in the country. What started out as a tiny, humble settlement in 1632 has now become a bustling, thriving city of almost 15,000 people; a proud city that honors its past as well as cradles its future.

One of Williamsburg’s first claims to fame is that it is one of America’s first planned cities. The original vision was for it to be “a new and well-ordered city”, with the intention of making Williamsburg the new capital of Virginia Colony. It was not long before capitol buildings, the earliest known centers of power in the country, were built here. Williamsburg’s capitol building became the oldest legislative assembly in the country.

Very quickly, Williamsburg became the hub for Virginia’s political, economic, and cultural life.

Revival

Williamsburg became a small, sleepy city until the 20th century, when the Colonial Williamsburg Museum opened in 1932. The philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., along with his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, took a keen interest in developing the city. With his support, much of Downtown Williamsburg was restored into a 301-acre Historic Area celebrating the early history of the United States of America. Over 80% of the original structures were preserved.

Today, Colonial Williamsburg continues to grow, thrive, and preserve these same historical treasures. At present, Colonial Williamsburg continually updates and refines its main attractions, with special focus and emphasis on child-friendly and inclusive attractions and features.

Williamsburg, VA fast facts

  • Williamsburg was the original capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780.
  • It was named after King William III.
  • The city was the center of political events in the state leading up to the American Revolution.
  • Williamsburg is home to the second-oldest institution of learning in the United States, The College of William and Mary, established in 1693. The university produced for United States presidents: Thomas Jefferson, James Munroe, John Tyler, and George Washington.
  • Williamsburg housed the first psychiatric hospital in North America.
  • Williamsburg celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1999.
  • Colonial Williamsburg is the country’s largest Living History Museum. It is also the city’s main tourism driver for its economy.
  • According to Travel + Leisure in 2017, Williamsburg is one of the Top 15 Cities in the U.S.
  • Money Magazine calls Williamsburg one of the top cities for retirement.
  • USA Today puts Williamsburg at number 3 on its 10 Best Historic Cities list.

Of special interest

Williamsburg has a lot to offer, especially if you’re a fan of historic attractions and cultural activities. List these places down if you’re looking for things to do this week.

  • The Peyton Randolph House – Popular with ghost hunters and supernatural enthusiasts, the Peyton Randolph House is thought to be one of the most haunted houses in America. Built in 1715, it also bears historical significance as the former home to one of America’s most prominent families.

    Talk of ghosts aside, this historic structure is an important centerpiece in America’s history, a place where you can examine its history and relationship with slavery.

  • Everard House – One of the oldest houses in Williamsburg, this was once home to Thomas Everard, a wealthy planter and civic leader.
  • The Rockefellers’ Bassett Hall – This became the Rockefellers’ home in 1936. Today, it offers a glimpse into the Rockefellers’ lives.
  • The Capitol – The local seat of power, the Capitol building’s first floor, including the courtroom and the House of Burgesses, is open for guided tours.
  • Wetherburn’s Tavern – The place to be back in the 1750s, Wetherburn’s Tavern now showcases items and memorabilia from the 18th century, detailing the lives of the Wetherburn family and their slaves.
  • Governor’s Palace – Walk around the first floor of the royal governor’s residence and find out more about the years before the American Revolution.
  • R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse – Now’s your chance to have your coffee and cake, 18th century-style. This coffee shop was where some of the earliest settlers convened to exchange news, unwind, and bond.

Colonial Williamsburg is open, with special protocols and health guidelines in place. For more information, visit colonialwilliamsburg.org.

Are you interested in exploring real estate in historic Williamsburg, VA? Put your trust in the company that has become an institution in the area: Coldwell Banker Traditions. We’ve been serving real estate clients since 1885. You can leave us a message here. You can also call us at 757.229.9595 or send an email to info(at)cbtraditions(dotted)com.