Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Colonial Williamsburg is one of the finest historic restorations in the country, and the 301-acre historic district and adjacent shopping area in Merchant Square make for a lovely day’s outing. But much of the rest of Williamsburg is really a gigantic explosion of crap. “Living history museums” are all well and good, but the town learned long ago that to make the big bucks, you have to give the tourists what they really want: giant amusement and water parks, outlet malls, chain motels, and plastic-menu restaurants. Williamsburg as it exists today didn’t really evolve, it was invented in the 20th century. The city had its heyday as Virginia’s colonial capital, but once the capital moved to Richmond in 1780, the town reverted to being just another sleepy little Virginia town without much going on until John D. Rockefeller began restoring the town’s colonial structures in the 1930’s. The destruction of over 700 of the town’s buildings to make way for Rockefeller’s grandiose restoration plan led one disgruntled resident to remark, “We will reap dollars, but will we own our town?” From there, it was just a few decades to the sprawling tourist trap you see today.

In comparison, Fredericksburg has a long history, first as an important river town on the fall line of the Rappahannock, then a strategic location in the Civil War, later as a stop on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P)—and today, it continues to grow because of its proximity to Washington D.C and Richmond. So as early as the 1600’s, Fredericksburg had...well, a point. Today, Fredericksburg’s living history museums and historic restorations can’t quite measure up to the vast holdings of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, but our sense of community is intact, and yes, we still own our town.

No comments: