Williamsburg Virginia Walking Tour
This walk through historic Williamsburg starts at a home built in the colonial era and works its way west to the campus of William and Mary, with stops at a dozen landmarks and historic buildings.
Completed in 1930, this Georgian Revival building is one of three schools successively named after Matthew Whaley (1696-1705), the only son of York County sheriff James Whaley and his wife Mary Page. The school sits near the rebuilt Governor's Palace. It is part of a long legacy of public education in the Williamsburg community, and exemplifies the history of the partnership between the College of William and Mary and the city of Williamsburg. Upon its opening, the school reflected new and progressive ideas in Virginia's philosophy of public education. The architectural integrity of the school has remained intact through modernization and renovations for accessibility.
The oldest building on the campus of the College of William & Mary, the Wren Building dates back to 1695 when construction began. The building is named in honor of English architect Sir Christopher Wren, and despite several fires that required reconstruction of various parts of the building, it remains the oldest academic building in continuous use in the United States. The College of William & Mary is a historic liberal arts university in Williamsburg, Virginia. Originally established as a royal college in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II, it is the second-oldest higher education institution in the United States after Harvard University. William & Mary was the first college in the United States to become a university, the first to have a Greek-latter fraternity, the first to establish an honor code, and the first to establish schools of Law, Modern Languages, and Modern History. The school also boasts numerous alumni influential in the early history of the country, including Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler; sixteen members of the Continental Congress and four signatories of the Declaration of Independence; Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall; and Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Several of the original buildings on campus have been restored to their eighteenth century appearances. Today the College of William & Mary is a state-supported public research university with over 8,000 enrolled students.
The President’s House at the College of William & Mary is the oldest residence for a university administrator in the United States. Constructed in 1733, this historic mansion has housed every President of the College of William & Mary except for one (Robert Saunders, who chose to stay in his own home during his tenure from 1846-1848). During the American Revolution, it was occupied by both rebels and Redcoats during the Battle of Yorktown. The house was damaged by fire and renovated several times before being restored to its colonial appearance in 1931. Recent work on the home has blended modern amenities while maintaining the historic appearance of the residence. The house has been visited by multiple U.S. Presidents, members of the British monarchy, and hundreds of leading public intellectuals and scholars. Today the house remains the official residence of the William & Mary president and is also used to receive visitors and hold events for students, faculty, alumni, and prospective donors.
The statue known as the Lord Botetourt Statue was completed in 1773, three years after the death of Virginia’s Royal Governor Norborne Berkeley, the 4th Baron de Botetourt. Berkeley, known as Lord Botetourt, served as the colony’s governor from 1768 until his death in 1770. Lord Botetourt served as the Rector for the College of William & Mary’s Board of Visitors. During his time in Williamsburg, Botetourt began the Botetourt Medal fund to acknowledge two graduating students; the award remains one of the university’s highest honors today. The Lord Botetourt Statue was originally placed outside of the Capitol, but after being partially destroyed by vandals in 1790, was removed. After being restored in 1801, the statue was placed outside of the Wren building where it remained until it was moved to the Botetourt Gallery of the Earl Gregg Swem Library in 1966 to protect it from further whether damage and vandalism. A new version of the statue was made in 1993 to the replace the original and is now visible outside of the Wren Building.
The Brafferton is the second oldest building on the College of William & Mary campus. Constructed in 1723, it is one of three surviving colonial buildings, along with the Wren Building and the President’s House, that make up the college’s Historic Campus. While today serving as the offices for the president and provost of William & Mary, the building originally housed the college’s Indian School. Established as part of William & Mary’s charter in 1693, the Indian School was intended to provide some Native Americans with a Western education in the hopes that they would spread European culture to their tribes. In this aspect the Indian School largely was a failure, and closed when funding was halted during the American Revolution.
The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum opened in 1985 in Colonial Williamsburg and is the leading museum in the region for American and British antiques. Paintings, furniture, metals, ceramics, firearms, and textiles from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries are among the highlights of the museum collection. The gallery spaces were remodeled and expanded in 2019 with a $40 million addition. In 2006, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum moved to the same building as the DeWitt Wallace, so the signs for "Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg" refer to both museums.
Bruton Parish Church is located in the restored section of historic area of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Dating to 1677, the church is a well-preserved example of colonial religious architecture. The excellent condition of the church is largely due to an extensive restoration effort funded by John D. Rockefeller Jr. during 1938–1939, which restored Bruton Parish Church to its original appearance. This active Episcopal parish is known for its exceptional music program, a musical tradition dating back to 1755 and includes multiple choirs and candlelight concerts.
The Wythe House was built in 1754 by Richard Taliaferro, George Wythe's father-in-law. Wythe would inherit the property following his marriage to Elizabeth Taliaferro. George Washington used the house as his headquarters just prior to the Battle of Yorktown. The building went through several owners until it came into the possession of Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin in 1926. From there, it would pass into the care of Colonial Williamsburg in 1938. It would be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Colonial Williamsburg is a historically-themed park that includes a variety of options for both entertainment and education. The town of Williamsburg, established in 1632, includes replica and restored buildings designed to give the appearance of a Virginia community in the late eighteenth century. The organization traces its roots back to the early 1900s when it was founded by Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin, the Rockefeller family, and numerous private organizations. Visitors can enjoy educational experiences including tours offered by trained historians and programs hosted by reenactors. Visitors can also tour an art museum, beautiful gardens, and modern conveniences like spas and shopping.
The Governor’s Palace was the official residence for the royal governors of colonial Virginia during much of the eighteenth century. Constructed from 1706-1722, the Palace housed seven royal governors and two post-colonial governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. After the Virginia capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1780, the house served as a hospital for American soldiers during the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The Palace was destroyed by fire later that year. In 1930, archaeologists from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation excavated the site and uncovered the original foundation. The entire palace was reconstructed in 1934 and furnished with historically accurate items. Today the Governor’s Palace is a part of Colonial Williamsburg and is open to the public.
The Peyton Randolph House was built in 1715 by William Robertson and purchased by Sir John Randolph in 1724. As it was passed down the family, it has hosted several notable guests, such as George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. The house is now part of the Williamsburg Historical District, though part of it remains a private residence. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
The Capitol of Williamsburg was the home of the Virginia House of Burgesses for the Colony of Virginia from 1709 until 1779. The Capitol standing today is the third to be built on this site. The first burned in 1723 and was replaced with the second capitol that was abandoned in 1780 when the General Assembly reconvened in Richmond. The building is now a museum and tours are given throughout the week.
Bassett Hall is a wood frame mansion house built in the mid-1700s that is part of Colonial Williamsburg. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. lived in the house with his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, during the early years of the restoration and rebuilding of the colonial capital. The couple donated $68 million to support historic restoration within the area and spent several weeks at the home twice a year. The Rockefeller family bequeathed the house and grounds to Colonial Williamsburg in 1979. The restored house is open for tours with a Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket. The tour of the home also includes a tour of the outbuildings and fourteen acres of gardens and woodlands and the opportunity to ask guides questions about the history of the region from the colonial era to the restoration and preservation of Colonial Williamsburg.