Notes on the Williamsburg Experiment

There’s an irony in writing a true account about the living history museum at Colonial Williamsburg. Its eponymous foundation and its curators have grappled with the same two questions for generations: Whose histories do we tell and how shall we recreate them? Today, Williamsburg faces a new set of questions beyond the facts recorded in the governours’ ledgers:  Whose truths do we tell and how shall we present them in concert together, especially in light of the 1619 Project, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Critical Race Theory, whose progenitors demand more than new lines of inquiry. They demanded action. Williamsburg has made clear efforts to juggle archaeology with interpretation, and it has also attempted to address the indictment of sophistry among its critics, which are legion. But, can the sites of Williamsburg’s 301 acres respond to our moment now?

In our post-vaccination world, Colonial Williamsburg is worth revisiting this summer, as I did in June—not for what its evidence reveals about Colonial America, but for our opportunity to change the course of what I’ll call the Williamsburg Experiment, ongoing for more than 380 years.

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A Simulated Thatched Roof

An odd feature caught the eye of the team at Glave & Holmes Architecture while rehabilitating the historic Brody Jewish Student Center in Charlottesville. This very artistic house on University Circle, historically the domain of UVA professors, was roofed with ordinary asphalt shingles, but the hips and overhangs were softly curved, lending the house a very distinctive appearance in this otherwise safely Jeffersonian Charlottesville neighborhood.

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Reclaiming Carr’s Hill for the Next 100 Years

Carr’s Hill is the home of the University of Virginia’s President — a place known to donors, faculty, and students alike as a coveted invitation. Stanford White’s 1909 contribution to Grounds is listed on the National Register and the Virginia Landmarks Register, but stood for more than a century without any significant renovation — even if the need had been apparent for some time. The university hired Glavé & Holmes Architecture and associate architect John G. Waite and Associates to assess the existing historic structure, its conditions, and the risks of intervening. The team came up with a surgically precise plan to minimize disruption while bringing the building’s systems into the 21st century.

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Cavalier Hotel Rehabilitation

From the day it opened in 1927 until World War II, the Cavalier Hotel was one of the premier resort locations on the East Coast, hosting all the great names of the Big Band Era as well as dozens of celebrities and U.S. Presidents. Its unusual Y-shaped plan, which was intended to maximize views of the ocean, was considered innovative for its time and the neo-classical design drew heavily on Virginia history and Jeffersonian influences.

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