Wish You Were Here: Three Centuries of Travel to Williamsburg


Photo, President Roosevelt Dedicating Duke of Gloucester Street, by Frank Nivison, October 20, 1934. Visual Resources.
"Virginia Gazette" Reprint re Opening of Duke of Gloucester Street, October 1934. Corporate Archives.

On October 20, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Williamsburg’s Duke of Gloucester Street “the most historic avenue in all America.” This marked a pivotal moment for the town inaugurating a new and significant role as a model of historic preservation and a place to immerse Americans in an authentic, carefully restored recreation of Virginia’s colonial capital. Williamsburg once again came into the limelight after years of experiencing a decline in stature after the move of Virginia’s colonial capital to Richmond in 1780. The growth of Williamsburg’s tourist industry in the early twentieth century transformed the town in much the same way its designation as the British colony’s capital did in the eighteenth century. With both events, Williamsburg became an important destination for travelers offering cultural attractions, opportunities for civic discourse, and encounters with individuals from around the world. The story of Williamsburg’s evolution from colonial capital to tourist destination is a remarkable journey extending through several centuries and highlighted through a variety of objects held by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library.

Conjectural map of Middle Plantation by Frances Dayton, 1956. Visual Resources.

When the English first invaded Tsenacommacah (Virginia) in 1607, the area that would become Williamsburg belonged to the Paspahegh, Kiskiak, and surrounding Algonquian-speaking tribes, who used these lands as communal hunting grounds. The English would come to collectively call these tribes the Powhatans, though not all of the Algonquian-speaking tribes were allied under the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom for that entire era. By the 1630s, the area was under English control and the Virginia Assembly passed an act to establish a settlement at the site called Middle Plantation. Behind a wooden palisade stretching for six miles across the peninsula upon which it sat, Middle Plantation was seen as an attractive location by land-hungry settlers.

Conceptual Sketch of South and West Elevations of First Church at Middle Plantation by Finlay Forbes Ferguson Jr., ca.1940. Architectural Drawings.

Throughout the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the settlement grew and changed in significant ways. It became a center of educational, governmental, religious, and business activity for the colony. A parish church and college were founded at Middle Plantation before the end of the seventeenth century. In 1699, Middle Plantation became Williamsburg, and the capital was transferred there from Jamestown. More and better residences were established in the town, and it became an attractive place to locate one’s business. As Williamsburg grew, it became a destination for a wide variety of travelers. On Williamsburg’s streets, one might encounter recent immigrants or sailors from Europe, delegations of representatives from various Indigenous nations, colonists from the mainland colonies or the West Indies, as well as those brought from Africa against their will.

Description of visit by the Emperor and Empress of the Cherokee Nation to the Governor's Palace, "Virginia Gazette," November 17, 1752. Special Collections.
List of venues and dates of fairs to be held in colonial Virginia, "Virginia Almanac," 1757. Special Collections.
List of places and dates that General Court sessions are to be held in colonial Virginia, "Virginia Almanac," 1776. Special Collections.

Meetings of the courts, General Assembly, market days, and fair days all provided reasons for people to travel to Williamsburg. There, local taverns provided not just accommodation and lodging but also spaces for entertainment where dances, lectures, gambling, music, and other entertainments could be enjoyed. The Raleigh Tavern, King’s Arms, and Wetherburn’s Tavern were just a few of the taverns located on Williamsburg’s main street running from the College of William and Mary to the Capitol. In the second decade of the eighteenth century, Williamsburg saw the opening of its first theater. In the decades before the Revolution, the American Company of Comedians would perform the plays of Shakespeare and others in the second and third theaters to open there. Outdoors, colonists could compete in or watch horse races and other sporting events.

Playbill for "The Beggar's Opera" and "The Anatomist, or Sham Doctor" to be performed by the Virginia Company of Comedians at the old theatre near the Capitol, June 3, 1762. Special Collections.
Stud advertisement for the celebrated English stallion, Buzzard. Burwell Family Papers, MS1964.4. Special Collections.
“Map of the Southern Provinces of the United States,” from "Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada" by Francois Alexandre-Frederic La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, London, England, 1799. SCRB00154. Special Collections

Pre-Restoration Travel to Williamsburg

The American Revolution changed Williamsburg. By war’s end, it was no longer the seat of government for the state and the Governor’s Palace had burned to the ground. Taverns still provided refreshment, lodging, and recreation for travelers. Court, fair and market days were still important events. But the crowds which filled Williamsburg to overflowing when the General Assembly and General Court met during Public Times were not to be seen again for many years.

Title page, "Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada" by Francois Alexandre-Frederic La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, London, England, 1799. SCRB00154. Special Collections.

Accounts of visitors to Williamsburg in the years after the Revolution paint an unflattering picture of the town. Visitors often compared the town’s present state with its former role as capital of Virginia. Following his visit to Williamsburg, the Duke de la Rochefoucault Liancourt wrote that the removal of the capital “has reduced Williamsburg to a village.” Of the Capitol itself, he wrote, “It is a tolerably handsome brick building, but is falling to ruin.” Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette’s private secretary, accompanied the Marquis on his tour of the United States in 1824 and 1825. During the tour, they visited Williamsburg. Of the town, Levasseur wrote that it “is now a town of moderate size, preserving nothing of its ancient importance.” Still, Williamsburg persevered and served the needs of its residents and others in its immediate vicinity. The Civil War brought some disruption to the town but was not the cause of any profound changes. Those would come later.

"Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825" by Auguste Levasseur, New York, New York, 1829. SCRB01105. Special Collections.
Pair of Plates, Cobridge, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, 1835-1834, lead-glazed earthenware, 1974-587, 1 & 2. Bequest of Grace Hartshorn Westerfield. These two plates commemorate Lafayette's landing in the United States in 1824 for his tour and are decorated with the transfer print "Lafayette's Landing." They match fragments recovered during archaeological excavations in Williamsburg.
Apollo Room in Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg, VA Circa 1835 Pencil on tissue leaf MS1943.5. Special Collections. This rough pencil sketch is possibly the original sketch made by or for Benson Lossing in preparation for his engraved illustration of the Apollo Room published in his "Pictorial Field-Book of the American Revolution," 1851-1852.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, recreational travel increased as a pastime. Passenger trains and the introduction of the automobile allowed families to travel longer distances and explore sites beyond the radius of big cities. This coincided with a growing interest amongst Virginia residents in preserving historic sites important to the region’s heritage. America’s Centennial celebrations in 1876, coupled with the celebration of the Yorktown Centennial in 1881, brought attention to Williamsburg’s surviving historic structures, such as the Courthouse, Powder Magazine, and Bruton Parish Church. The Centennial Photographic Company produced a series of albumen photographs to commemorate the history of various regions throughout the United States, including Williamsburg.

"The Yorktown Centennial – The Military & Naval Reviews" from sketches of J.O. Davidson, "Harper’s Weekly," 22 October 1881, Historic Newspaper Clippings Collection, AV2010.6, Visual Resources.
"Old Court House, Williamsburgh, Va.," Centennial Photographic Company, circa 1875, Albumen Print Collection, MS2005.16, Special Collections.
"The City Hotel," B.W. Bowry, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1885. MS1953.4. Special Collections.
"Souvenir Williamsburg, Virginia," Hermitage Press Inc., 1907. SCRB01140. Special Collections.

In 1889, Cynthia Beverley Tucker Coleman and Mary Jeffrey Galt founded the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. One of the organization’s first projects, the Powder Magazine on Market Square, involved stabilizing and restoring the structure. A museum opened inside with displays of colonial artifacts, portraits, and two stained glass windows featuring Alexander Spotswood and Nathaniel Bacon. Admission initially cost ten cents.

Postcard, "Old Powder Horn, Williamsburg, 1714 : Nathaniel Bacon Window in Powder Horn," United States Congress, 1898, AV2001.9, 3. Visual Resources.
Admission Sign, Powder Magazine. Photo by Arthur Shurcliff, circa 1928. Visual Resources.
Interior of APVA Museum in the Powder Magazine, photographer unknown, circa 1907. Visual Resources.

The APVA also acquired the site of Williamsburg’s colonial Capitol building at the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street in 1897. After excavating the Capitol’s foundations and capping them with cement to show the outlines of the building, the APVA erected a memorial in 1904 to commemorate members of the House of Burgesses who formed associations against the importation of British goods.

Postcard, "Site of House of Burgesses Looking West, Williamsburg, Va.," published by J.H. Stone, circa 1905. Visual Resources.
View of the excavated foundations of the Capitol and the monument commemorating the members of the House of Burgesses erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1904, Elizabeth Coleman Photograph Collection, AV-2009.56. Visual Resources.

The grand re-opening of the renovated Colonial Hotel occurred on January 3, 1896. Located on the site of today’s Chowning’s Tavern, the hotel welcomed an influx of visitors during the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1907, the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition held in Norfolk, Virginia offered an opportunity to bring attention to other historic attractions in towns along the way. A brochure for the Colonial Inn, coupled with some of the earliest color postcards produced to promote Williamsburg as a travel destination, highlight the sites that formed part of a turn-of-the century tourist’s visit to the town.

Postcard, Colonial Inn, Williamsburg, Va., published by the Hugh C. Leighton Co., circa 1909. Visual Resources.
Page one, Brochure, Colonial Inn, J.B.C. Spencer, Proprietor, circa 1910. Special Collections
Page two, Brochure, Colonial Inn, J.B.C. Spencer, Proprietor, circa 1910. Special Collections.
Page three, Brochure, Colonial Inn, J.B.C. Spencer, Proprietor, circa 1910. Special Collections.
Page four, Brochure, Colonial Inn, J.B.C. Spencer, Proprietor, circa 1910. Special Collections.
Postcard, Courthouse, Williamsburg, Va., Detroit Publishing Company, 1902. Visual Resources.
Postcard, Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Va., Detroit Photographic Co., 1902. Visual Resources.
Postcard, "Site of First Theatre in America and ‘Audrey House,’" Authorized by an Act of Congress, 1908. Visual Resources.
H.D. Cole Shop, photo by Clyde Holmes, 1928. Visual Resources. H.D. Cole sold a variety of postcards, maps, guidebooks, and souvenirs to early Williamsburg tourists.
Postcard, "Williamsburg, Va. Mrs. Washington's Kitchen," C.T. American Art Blue-Sky, published by H.D. Cole, 1920s. Visual Resources.


“Ride Back 200 Years into Colonial Williamsburg!” Advertisement for Colonial Williamsburg and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, Spring 1940. Corporate Archives

Improved and faster methods of transportation developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, contributing to the growth of leisure travel in the United States. The advent of rail transportation to and from Williamsburg occurred in the 1880s and led to heightened interest in Williamsburg as an attraction along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad’s passenger train route. Plans for the celebration of the Yorktown Centennial in 1881, commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown, pushed the C&O Railroad to accelerate completion of the Peninsula Extension of the railway. A two-story frame structure built on the east side of the site of the Governor’s Palace served as the first train depot and quickly became a transportation hub. An article published in the Virginia Gazette in 1889 described Williamsburg as “the most historically interesting city on the American continent” and noted that it offered “Five trains east and west, with connections north and south daily.”

Postcard, C & O Depot, Williamsburg, Va., published by Louis Kauffman & Sons, circa late 1920s, Visual Resources.

Virginia’s waterways continued to provide an important mode of transportation in conjunction with the railroad. Steamboats and ferries offered travelers more direct routes to certain destinations in an era when interstate highways did not exist. The steamboat “Louise” saved the day during the Yorktown Centennial by providing an alternate route to Yorktown when delays occurred with the construction of railroad tracks through Williamsburg. “Louise” and another boat, “Pocahontas,” continued to transport passengers in the early twentieth century, as evidenced by photos of the steamers in a travel album compiled by a Williamsburg resident.

Steamboat, “Louise,” photo by F.H. Ball, circa 1911, F.H. Ball Photo Album, AV2007.1, Visual Resources.
Main Street, Yorktown, photo by Rufus Barrows, 1914. John A. Barrows Photograph Collection, MS1996.22. Special Collections. Members of the Barrows family and friends on an early automobile tour along Main Street in Yorktown, Virginia. The individuals, from left to right, are friends Neil and Nettie Steward, Miriam Barrows, and sons John and David. John Barrows would later become an architectural draftsman for the Williamsburg office of architects Perry, Shaw & Hepburn in the late 1920s to early 1930s.
Captain John Smith Ferry, photo by Susan H. Nash, circa 1929. Susan Higginson Nash Photograph Collection AV2009.35. Visual Resources.
Southeast elevation of Person's Garage, Williamsburg, Virginia, photo by Frank Nivison, May 15, 1934. Visual Resources.

After Rockefeller committed to fund the Restoration effort in November 1927, work progressed quickly over the next five years. Landscape Architect Arthur Shurcliff realized that the layout of roadways and the design of traffic flow would be a critical component of the Restoration to accommodate modern transportation. He prepared preliminary concept sketches offering various alternatives for routing autos and trains in and about Williamsburg. To keep traffic from detracting from the ambiance of the Historic Area, the Colonial Parkway tunnel was constructed underneath the Historic Area and opened in 1949 to divert motorists along the segment of the parkway passing through Williamsburg.

Sketch, Colonial Parkway Underpass, Arthur A. Shurcliff, 1935. Arthur A. Shurcliff Pencil Sketches, AV2021.5, 128. Architectural Drawings.
Progress photo of construction of the Colonial Parkway tunnel underneath Colonial Williamsburg's Historic area, photo by Frank Nivison, late 1930s. Visual Resources.

Once Colonial Williamsburg opened as a museum, officials began to consider modes of transportation for guests who might not be able to walk through the entire Historic Area. By the late 1930s, carriage rides for guests began to be offered. In 1940, Colonial Williamsburg briefly experimented with the introduction of tractor trains like those used at Versailles to move visitors from the hotels and reception center to various points in the Historic Area. However, shifting priorities due to World War II led to the quick demise of the service. An experimental bus service, free of charge for ticket holders, was introduced in the Fall of 1950 and on July 8, 1951, the buses became a permanent modern convenience for guests.

Sketch of Proposed Trains in Historic Area by Singleton P. Moorehead, 1941. Architectural Drawings.
Flyer for Colonial Williamsburg Transit Bus, photo by Thomas Williams, 1950. Visual Resources.
Brochure, "Historic Virginia and James River Bridge," Corporate Archives.

The introduction of air travel for tourists in the 1950s offered another mode for visiting Williamsburg. Commercial airline flights began arriving at the Patrick Henry Air Field in Newport News, Virginia in 1949. The airport quickly became a hub for arriving and departing dignitaries whose official visits to the United States often included a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.

Miss Merrit Foster Taking Reservations in The Colonial Williamsburg Travel Office. Photo by Dave Brooks, 1954. Visual Resources.
Arrival at Patrick Henry Airport of George Seaton, the Director of "Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot," 1956. Visual Resources.


Postcard, Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg, Va., published by H.D. Cole, circa 1936. Visual Resources.
Brochure “Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg Virginia the Colonial City under restoration,” dated prior to 1937. Corporate Archives.

With the opening of several exhibition buildings in the early 1930s, the quantity of guests arriving soon outnumbered the town’s available accommodations. Colonial Williamsburg purchased the existing Colonial Inn on Market Square and opened it as the Williamsburg Inn in 1931. It quickly became clear that the twenty-one-room hotel would not be a long-term solution to the overnight guest problem. Thus, planning commenced for the new hotel which became today’s Williamsburg Inn. Architects chose a site on the south side of Francis Street adjacent to the Historic Area where both the hotel and resort amenities could be constructed. Opened on April 3, 1937, the Inn’s neoclassical façade drew guests into an elegant Regency style interior. Mr. Rockefeller pronounced the result “satisfying, beautiful, and homelike.”

Photo, Williamsburg Inn by Richard Garrison, ca. 1937. Richard Garrison Photograph Collection, AV-1998.14. Visual Resources.
Room 232, Williamsburg Inn, photographer unknown, pre-1946. Visual Resources.
Postcard, Williamsburg Inn Swimming Pool, published by H.S. Crocker, Co., late 1950s. Visual Resources.

A second lodging option, the Williamsburg Lodge, opened on March 15, 1939, on South England Street directly across from the Information Center, a centralized point for commencing tours of the Historic Area. An unobtrusive brick façade led into a spacious lobby and lounge with chairs, writing tables, and a large fireplace. Upstairs, forty-one guest rooms with cypress paneling, twin beds, and private bathrooms offered comfortable, unpretentious accommodations. Amenities included a Game Room large enough to accommodate conventions, lectures, or motion picture screenings.

Postcard, Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg, Va. Curteich-Chicago, 1950s. Visual Resources.
Helen Hull Jacobs, first Guest at the Williamsburg Lodge, photographer unknown, 1939. Visual Resources. Helen Jacobs, a tennis star who was spending the winter in Williamsburg, signing registration card no.1 at the Williamsburg Lodge. Visual Resources.
Brochure for Williamsburg Inn and Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg, Virginia, undated. Corporate Archives.
Brochure for Williamsburg Inn and Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg, Virginia, undated. Corporate Archives.

As visitation and automobile traffic increased after World War II, Colonial Williamsburg recognized the need to relocate its center for visitor arrivals to a site that was further away from the Historic Area yet still easily accessible. Thus, a new Information Center was built to the north of the Historic Area, opening in 1957. Adjacent to the new center and opening at the same time, the Motor House complex was designed in a contemporary style to differentiate it from the colonial buildings of the Historic Area while providing an attractive, modern, and comfortable accommodation for visitors. The interior of the Motor House reflected the mid-century modern style popular at the time with bright color combinations, sleek and simple lines, and minimal decorative ornamentation. Furnishings included a combination of wooden paneling and textured wall coverings, multi-colored window louvers, striped bedspreads, brightly colored lounge chairs, dressing tables, and coved lighting. Corner rooms on the units with double panoramic windows gave visitors an added sense of being integrated with their natural surroundings. Free shuttle buses carried visitors throughout the day between the Information Center and the Motor House and the Historic Area to reduce car traffic in the Historic Area. Visitor amenities at the Motor House included a large cafeteria, lounge area, television room, gift shop, swimming pool, and children’s playground.

Cover of brochure, "Williamsburg Motor House, Williamsburg, Virginia." Corporate Archives.
Architectural rendering, "View from Mall: New Motor Houses, Williamsburg, Virginia," by J. Floyd Yewell, mid-1950s. Architectural Drawings.
Williamsburg Motor Lodge Entrance, 1957. Visual Resources.
"Williamsburg Motor Court Guest Room," by Tom Little, mid-1950s. Architectural Drawings.
Television Room, Motor House, 1957. Visual Resources.
Postcard, Motor House Swimming Pool, ca.1957. Visual Resources.
Brochure, “The Motor House Directory,” interior showing an aerial view of the complex, circa late 1950s. Corporate Archives
Brochure, "Williamsburg Motor House, Williamsburg, Virginia," late 1950s. Corporate Archives.
Brochure, "Williamsburg Motor House, Williamsburg, Virginia," late 1950s. Corporate Archives.

Community Remembrances

The John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library holds a variety of scrapbooks and photo albums documenting tourist visits and their impressions of Colonial Williamsburg.

Today most visitors to Colonial Williamsburg commemorate their experiences instantaneously with photos and comments posted to social media. A century ago, scrapbooks, letters, and postcards were in vogue, and the period from the 1890s-1930s witnessed a rise in the production of many such personal mementoes. The Rockefeller Library holds a variety of items documenting the impressions of tourists between the 1930s and the 1980s.

Photo of Capitol under Reconstruction from Eller Family Album, compiler unknown, 1932, AV2022.3. Visual Resources.
Photo of Capitol under Reconstruction from Eller Family Album, compiler unknown, 1932, AV2022.3. Visual Resources.
Hostess at Entrance to Raleigh Tavern, photo by Richard Garrison, 1938. Richard Garrison Photograph Collection AV1998.14 Visual Resources.
Adaline M. Humphreys Travel Album compiled by Adaline Humphreys, 1938, AV2017.1. Visual Resources

One of the most entertaining albums documenting the early tourist experience was created by Adaline Humphreys, who traveled to Williamsburg with her sister, Maude, in 1938 and wrote a lengthy travelogue about her “glorious trip” to accompany travel photos. She describes reaching Williamsburg in the evening and finding it “most orderly and quiet, most citizens having long since closed their shutters and snuffed their candles.” The following day, after touring “various points of beauty and eminence” the two dined at the Travis House restaurant, where they noted “The excellence of the Fruit Shrub…has not been equaled in any part of the country.”

Letter, Bernice Friedberg to her sister Marie Friedberg, from Brooklyn, New York, describing her solo trip to Williamsburg in October 1939. Corporate Archives. Accession 2019-029.
Letter, Bernice Friedberg to her sister Marie Friedberg, from Brooklyn, New York, describing her solo trip to Williamsburg in October 1939. Corporate Archives. Accession 2019-029. To see the full version of the letter, along with a transcription, please use this link: https://cwfjdrlsc.omeka.net/items/show/3919.
Photo strip with portraits of Bernice Friedberg, circa 1939. Photos used with permission of Harriet Hirsch.

A letter from Bernice Friedberg to her sister Marie in October 1939 documents another early tourist’s visit and her dinner at the Williamsburg Inn where “in all my life I never enjoyed a better meal.” Bernice detailed the decoration of her room at the Williamsburg Lodge, her delight at the Governor’s Palace, what she remembered about the archaeological exhibit at the Court House, and Mrs. Rockefeller’s folk art displayed in the Ludwell Paradise House. Bernice ran out of steam by the letter’s end and concluded that “I will never be able to carry out my original intention of getting these two days down in black and white. I should have to write a book.”

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Schenker Travel Album, compiled by Joan Schenker, 1957, AV2017.3. Visual Resources.
Couple boarding a Colonial Williamsburg bus in the Historic Area, 1950s. Visual Resources.

The post World War II expansion of Colonial Williamsburg is reflected in the scrapbook of Mr. and Mrs. Schenker. A New York couple who traveled to Williamsburg for their honeymoon, the Schenkers compiled an album encompassing everything from hotel mementoes to ticket stubs, pamphlets, and postcards. Even the album itself is one they purchased at a Colonial Williamsburg trade shop. The contents document many of the additions to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1950s including the Motor House, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Brush-Everard House, King’s Arms Tavern, and Campbell’s Tavern.

Deborah Nickles Scrapbook of family visit to Williamsburg and Washington DC showing ephemera from the Pocahontas Motor Lodge and the Capitol Restaurant, circa 1952. Corporate Archives. Accession 2018-068.
A man taking a photo of a group of tourists with the wigmaker outside the Barber & Peruke Maker's Shop when it was located in what is today known as the Prentis Store, 1948. Visual Resources.

A family trip to Williamsburg and Washington, D.C., was documented in the childhood scrapbook of Deborah Nickles circa 1952. Deborah saved restaurant placemats, soap wrappers, hotel postcards, menus, maps, and brochures and annotated each page with her impressions of each place. Under her postcard of the Public Gaol she noted “That’s where Holly put me in the stocks,” while next to the menu for the King’s Arms, she declared it “a very nice place where you get waited on hand and foot.” Her family stayed at the Pocahontas Motor Lodge on Route 31 “8 blocks from [the] Colonial Capitol.”

Family touring the Capitol during Prelude to Independence event, photo by Dan Weiner, early 1950s. Visual Resources.
Ticket of Admission for Child, August 9, 1959. Corporate Archives.
"The Official Guidebook and Map of Colonial Williamsburg." Colonial Williamsburg Publications Official Guidebook and Map, 1951. Corporate Archives.
Elizabeth Cullinane Travel Album Compiled by Elizabeth Cullinane, 1980s, AV2018.9. Visual Resources.

The Elizabeth Cullinane Photo Album Collection is a testament to one individual’s decades-long fascination with Colonial Williamsburg. After an initial visit in the 1950s, Mrs. Cullinane, a Virginia resident, continued to make regular trips to Williamsburg and began assembling albums to document her favorite features. Her daughter, Susan Lee noted, “It was truly remarkable what she accomplished with a Kodak pocket camera and a manual typewriter.”

Tourist Homes & Wartime Lodging

Map of Williamsburg, Virginia Tourist Accommodations, 1940. MP1940-2000-165. Special Collections.
Postcard for Lawson's Tourist Home, U.S. Route 60, Williamsburg, Virginia. Visual Resources.

Alongside the Williamsburg Inn and Lodge opened by Colonial Williamsburg in the late 1930s, a few other small hotel properties existed in Williamsburg, such as Topping’s Tourist Inn and the Tioga Motor Court. Between the 1930s and 1950s, privately-operated guest houses throughout the city of Williamsburg provided one of the main supplemental lodging options for visitors to Colonial Williamsburg. Residents offered room and board at reasonable rates to out-of-town guests. A map dating to 1940 showing the locations of these boarding houses reveals that Williamsburg had over sixty guest houses in operation. Lawson’s Tourist Home, a three-story brick home on Richmond Road, served as one of the largest such establishments, offering ten guest rooms and five bathrooms. Tourists could also find room and board at a few private residences within the Historic Area. Cora and Estelle Smith, whose family signed a life tenancy agreement with the Williamsburg Restoration allowing them to continue to reside in their family residence, the Thomas Everard House, regularly welcomed boarders to their home, giving them a unique opportunity to stay right on Palace Green. The correspondence exchanged between Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin and the Smith sisters documents their interest in obtaining referrals for boarders.

Cora and Estelle Smith greeting guests in front of the Thomas Everard House, Williamsburg, Virginia, in the early 1920s. Visual Resources.
Page one, letter, Estelle Smith to Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, November 26, 1921. Corporate Archives.
Page two, letter, Estelle Smith to Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, November 26, 1921. Corporate Archives.
Page three, letter, Estelle Smith to Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, November 26, 1921. Corporate Archives.

World War II brought a huge influx of soldiers, government officials, and their family members into the region due to military installations at Camp Peary, Fort Eustis, and the Naval Mine Depot. The Williamsburg Inn closed to travelers and became a non-profit residence for Army and Navy officers and their wives at a rate of $3.50 per night, while the Williamsburg Lodge, Brick House Tavern, and Market Square Tavern provided housing for weekend guests, such as family members or spouses on short visits. Many more local families opened their own homes and rented rooms as the town experienced a three hundred percent increase in private room rentals.

Sign announcing that the Williamsburg Inn is reserved for Army and Navy officers and their families, 1943. Visual Resources.
Page four, scrapbook of Dr. James Lee Fisher, 1943, James Lee and Ethel M. Fisher Family Archives. Visual Resources. View the entire scrapbook via this link: https://rocklib.omeka.net/collections/show/50.
Dr. James Lee Fisher outside the Williamsburg Inn, where he and his wife, Ethel, lodged during the first nine months of his military training at Camp Peary in 1943. James Lee and Ethel M. Fisher Family Archives. Visual Resources.

The Green-Book

Cover of "The Negro Motorist Green-Book", published by Victor H. Green, 1940. New York Public Library.

Colonial Williamsburg welcomed visitors of all races to tour the Historic Area. However, due to state-enforced segregation laws, early Black visitors to Williamsburg faced many dining and lodging challenges and had to rely upon a network of Black-owned guest houses and restaurants to meet their needs for accommodations and meals. The Negro Motorist Green-Book, a travel guidebook for Black tourists first published by Victor H. Green in 1936 and thereafter annually until 1967, listed lodgings, restaurants, bars, and gas stations where Black motorists could expect a welcoming atmosphere and services for their needs during trips. Many of the businesses listed were owned and operated by Black residents and thus could direct Black travelers to other necessities during their visit, such as nightclubs, barber and beauty parlors, drug stores, and churches.

Cover, "The 25th Anniversary 1961 Edition, The Travelers' Green Book Guide for Travel & Vacations," published by Victor H. Green, 1961. New York Public Library.
Excerpt, Williamsburg, Virginia listings in "The 25th Anniversary 1961 Edition, The Travelers' Green Book Guide for Travel & Vacations," published by Victor H. Green, 1961. New York Public Library.
View looking west along Nicholson Street towards the Baker House, left, and the Potts House, right, Williamsburg, Virginia, photo by D.N. Davidson, circa 1929. D.N. Davidson Photograph Collection, AV2013.2, Visual Resources.

Black guests to Williamsburg often stayed at the Baker Tourist Home located at 419 Nicholson Street and operated by Willie and Clara Baker. The Hillside Café and Wallace and Cook’s Beer Garden, located off Nicholson Street on Raleigh Lane, offered an early venue for Black tourists and other visitors, such as chauffeurs and bus drivers, to gather for meals and nightlife. Visitors could also attend movie screenings held in the all-Black Bruton Heights School auditorium. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited racial segregation in hotels, restaurants, and theaters, Black travelers had more lodging and dining options along their routes and The Green-Book became obsolete.

Ernest Wallace Hillside Café, also known as Wallace and Cook's Beer Garden, located on Raleigh Lane [no longer extant] between Franklin and Nicholson Streets, Williamsburg, Va., September 1953. From left to right: Mr. Goodman, Charles Wallace, Elsie Wallace, Ernest Wallace, Blanche Taylor, Helen Wynn-Brown, Carlton Jackson. Albert Durant Photography Collection, AV1992.1. Visual Resources.

Williamsburg Restaurants

Since its inception, Colonial Williamsburg has had a variety of dining establishments around its perimeter to cater to the needs of tourists, students, and residents. The era of small cafes and lunchrooms up and down Duke of Gloucester Street came to an end as Williamsburg’s Restoration commenced in the late 1920s. Restaurants became more concentrated in the Business Block area at the west end of Duke of Gloucester Street, adjacent to the College of William & Mary. Entrepreneurs also opened a few beyond the east boundary of the Historic Area near York and Page Streets.

Norfolk Restaurant, opened in 1919 on the south side of today’s Merchants Square and operated by Nick and Angelo Costas, photo by Todd and Brown Inc., 1929. Visual Resources.
Interior of Colonial Luncheonette, Williamsburg, Virginia, photo by Frank Nivison, early 1930s. Visual Resources.

The Greek community has always had a strong presence in the Williamsburg restaurant business. Nick and Angelo Costas established the Norfolk Restaurant on what is today the south side of Merchants Square in 1919. When the building was demolished to allow for construction of Merchants Square, Angelo Costas partnered with Tom Baltas to open the Capitol Restaurant in 1932, located in the middle of the south side of the Business Block on the site of today’s Scotland House. Their establishment became known as the “Middle Greeks.” On the north side of the Business Block, another restaurant, the Colonial Luncheonette, operated by newcomer Steve Sacalis, received the nickname the “Corner Greeks,” since it was located at the corner of the building complex that today houses the Precious Gem.

Colonial Luncheonette postcard published by Dexter Press, 1930s, AV2019.144, 1. Visual Resources.
Postcard depicting waitresses posing in front of the Capitol Restaurant on Merchants Square, Williamsburg, Va., ca. late 1940s, published by National Press Company, Chicago, AV2003.6, 35. Visual Resources.

The Stringfellow Building, today the site of Brick and Vine, housed a succession of well-known restaurant chains. The first, the Harvey House, opened on September 24, 1948, and closed after a brief run in March 1949. Inspired by the Jimmy Stewart movie Harvey, the restaurant décor included a whimsical rabbit logo and offered a modern lunch counter with soda fountain favorites. Howard Johnson’s restaurant occupied the same space from the 1950s until the 1970s and many students and residents have fond memories of stopping there to sample their “18 delicious flavors of ice cream.”

Staff of the Harvey House restaurant posing in front of its lunch counter, photo by Thomas Williams, 1948. Visual Resources.
Postcard featuring exterior of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant when located within the Stringfellow Building on Merchants Square, circa 1950s, AV2019.144, 2. Visual Resources.

The Richard Bland Tavern, today known as Wetherburn’s Tavern, offered another early dining option for tourists on Duke of Gloucester Street. Virginia Braithwaite Haughwout purchased the property in 1921 and expanded an existing tearoom into a restaurant and small inn. Early tourists to Williamsburg could enjoy a meal in the quaint Bull’s Head Room or stay overnight in one of the guest rooms.

Recto of postcard featuring a drawing of the exterior of the Richard Bland Tavern at the Sign of the Bull’s Head, Williamsburg, Virginia published by The Collotype Co.,1930s. Visual Resources.
Postcard produced by The Collotype Co. that depicts the famous Bull's Head Room in the Richard Bland Tavern, today known as Wetherburn's Tavern, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1930s. Early visitors to Colonial Williamsburg could dine, lodge, and purchase souvenirs and antiques at the Richard Bland Tavern. This postcard formed part of a set that visitors most likely could find in the tavern gift shop. Visual Resources.

Colonial Williamsburg Restaurants & Taverns

Brochure for Lady Travis House restaurant, April 1, 1931. Corporate Archives.

The first Restoration-operated restaurant, the Travis House, opened to the public on July 3, 1930. The Travis House stood for just over twenty years on Duke of Gloucester Street on the site formerly occupied by the Palace Theatre at the foot of Palace Green. Popular with tourists, Restoration and college employees, World War II servicemen and their families, and locals alike, the restaurant served fried chicken, Virginia ham, and other Southern dishes in a colonial setting.

Supper Menu for Lady Travis House restaurant, September 21, 1931. Corporate Archives.

After the opening of the Williamsburg Inn and Lodge in the late 1930s, dining options expanded for guests, with a wide variety of restaurant options from formal to casual. With a culinary team led by Chef Fred Crawford, the main dining room at the Inn featured Regency era décor and gourmet cuisine based upon traditional Southern favorites. The Lodge’s dining room seated up to three hundred guests and could be sub-divided into private dining areas, while the coffee shop featured lunch counter or cafeteria service with such options as an oyster bar.

Dining Room at the Williamsburg Inn, late 1940s. Visual Resources.
Dining Room at the Williamsburg Lodge, early 1950s. Visual Resources.

The Motor House Cafeteria opened to visitors on April 1, 1957, as part of the newly designed travel center that encompassed the Visitor Center and Motor House. Designers conceived of the dining room as a large shed-type area with a dramatic picture window, a hung ceiling, and “ship’s carving” decorations on weathered wood. The cafeteria’s service area offered a new “hollow square” design that allowed customers to walk up to various stations to be served the items of interest rather than file through the entire cafeteria line.

Motor House Cafeteria dining room, ca.1957. Visual Resources.

The first tavern recreating a colonial dining experience for guests was Chowning’s Tavern, opened on August 15, 1941. It featured a tap room and bar in the eastern half of the building and a dining room in the western half. Beer and ale in pewter mugs and light refreshments were served, including oysters and clams on the half shell, Brunswick stew, sandwiches, and pecan pie. An arbor in the rear of the tavern provided shady outdoor seating for tavern guests. Overseen by its jovial host Julian Dickens, the tavern quickly became an evening entertainment hotspot with music and games.

Julian Dickens, standing, portrays tavern keeper Josiah Chowning greeting a couple dining at Chowning’s Tavern, photo by Thomas Williams, 1948. Visual Resources.

As popular as the Travis House restaurant was, its dining spaces were less than ideal, and its kitchen space was cramped. This prompted the recreation of the King’s Arms Tavern to replace the Travis House in 1951. The seven dining rooms of the new tavern could seat around one hundred fifty guests at a time and a garden space allowed for additional outdoor seating options. The large modern kitchen situated in the tavern’s basement allowed for an expansion on the traditional Southern colonial menu offered by the Travis House which had been limited largely to Virginia ham and chicken dinners. In 1956, the reconstructed Mrs. Campbell’s Coffee House opened to the public for daily lunch and dinner presented in an eighteenth-century setting. Located on Waller Street behind the Capitol and built on the foundations of the original so popular with pre-Revolutionary legislators, the coffee house featured a seafood menu. Later that year, the name changed from Mrs. Campbell’s Coffee House to Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, the name by which it is known today.. Visual Resources.

Guests dining at King's Arms Tavern, 1967. Visual Resources.
Waiter tying a napkin around a guest's neck in preparation for serving their meal at King's Arms Tavern, 1957. Visual Resources.
Cover of menu for Mrs. Campbell's Coffee House, today known as Christiana Campbell's Tavern. Corporate Archives.
Musicians performing in a Candlelight Concert at the Governor's Palace. Ralph Kirkpatrick, harpsichord, performing with Mitch Miller, oboe, Alexander Schneider, violin, and Daniel Saidenberg, cello, in the Governor’s Palace Ballroom, photo by Thomas Williams, October 1946.. Visual Resources.


For guests staying overnight, Colonial Williamsburg developed an array of recreational activities to complement the educational tours in the Historic Area. This led Colonial Williamsburg to evolve into not only a museum destination, but also a popular resort facility. Initially, the Williamsburg Inn and the Williamsburg Lodge shared such amenities as a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a croquet green. A nine-hole golf course, designed by Fred Findlay, and clubhouse constructed in 1947 enhanced recreational options at the Inn and Lodge. Bicycling also offered early guests an opportunity to explore the horticultural features of the hotel grounds and the surrounding community. Movies at the Williamsburg Theatre on Merchants Square, musical concerts at the Governor’s Palace, and tavern performers at Chowning’s Tavern served as evening entertainment options. During World War II, the hotel properties and recreational activities provided a haven for soldiers, their families, and government officials to rest and decompress from the stresses and uncertainties of war during weekend leave. Colonial Williamsburg President Kenneth Chorley noted “Everyone who works requires rest and change. Even the military authorities insist on furlough. Travel restores health, rekindles enthusiasm, and improves efficiency by eliminating mental and physical fog which can cripple war efforts.”

Guests playing croquet on the lawn behind the Williamsburg Inn, 1948. Visual Resources.
Musicians entertaining guests at Chowning's Tavern, 1950s. Visual Resources.
The well-known Williamsburg Quintet, consisting of Levi Stephens, Archie Rucker, Fred Epps, Alfred Epps, and Lisbon Gerst. The singing group entertained diners at the Williamsburg Inn and produced a record for Colonial Williamsburg featuring such songs as "I'm-A-Rolling," "Do You Call That Religion?," "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet Gabriel," and "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel." Visual Resources.
Couple relaxing on the lawn near the Capitol after a bicycle ride, 1949. Visual Resources.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, Colonial Williamsburg undertook significant expansion of its resort amenities to encourage tourists to stay in Williamsburg for several days. Designers strove to create “an enclave of serenity” at the Williamsburg Inn complex. The Golden Horseshoe Golf Course, a championship 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones, opened in 1963, along with an enlarged clubhouse and restaurant overlooking a pond and the eighteenth hole. The 1960s also brought the addition of a second swimming pool west of the original east pool and the construction of a lawn bowling green. A new Tennis Shop and additional tennis courts further expanded sports facilities in 1976. At the Williamsburg Motor House, opened in 1957, guests could enjoy a large swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and a playground area for children. Additions to the wooded grounds in following decades included a putting green in 1980 and horseshoe pits, badminton, and shuffleboard courts. The Williamsburg Lodge opened the Tazewell Club Fitness Center in 1988 to provide its guests with an indoor swimming pool, exercise room, sauna, and whirlpool. Today, many of these amenities are combined for hotel guests at the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg which opened in 2007 and offers both fitness facilities and classes and rejuvenating treatments such as massages, facials, steam rooms, and whirlpools.

Golden Horseshoe Golf Course Clubhouse, 1967. Visual Resources.
Williamsburg Inn swimming pool, 1980. Visual Resources.
Motor House swimming pool, 1957. Visual Resources.
Couple playing tennis at the courts near the Williamsburg Inn, 1963. Visual Resources.
Guests at the Motor House putting green, 1982. Visual Resources.

The Tourist Experience on Film: Home Movies from the Rockefeller Library’s Movie Collection

The Rockefeller Library collects home movies that show what the visitor experience was like in the mid-20th century. This is a period from which we have many photographs and some educational films, but very little “informal” motion picture footage. Home movies provide valuable information because they are personal expressions of what an individual tourist found interesting and noteworthy, and they often capture the small daily moments which would otherwise be lost to time. Our early collecting has already revealed footage of several such noteworthy (in hindsight) scenes, such as cars and carriage rides sharing the road. In this compiled video, there are three clips from home movies dating from circa 1949, 1957, and circa the 1960s that have been donated to the Library.

If you have home movies that you think would be of interest to the Rockefeller Library, please reach out to rocklibrary@cwf.org .


Exhibit curated by Donna Cooke, Marianne Martin, Doug Mayo, Sarah Nerney & Jenna Simpson.

The exhibit committee wishes to thank the following individuals for their assistance with the exhibition: Tracey Gulden and Brendan Sostak, Media Collections; Valerie Eppolito and Jan Gilliam, Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg; Melinda Evans, Designs by ME; and Carol Kozek, Rockefeller Library Volunteer.