Saturday, September 5, 2015

35/15: Life in Williamsburg in 1935

What is 35/15? Read the Introduction first.

   Let's give you a little taste for what Williamsburg was like in 1935.

   By the end of 1934, 59 buildings had been restored, 91 were reconstructed, and 458 buildings were removed from the Historic Area, by either demolition or moved out. Today, there are nearly 600 buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, 88 of those are restored original buildings.

   What was an open exhibition building? The Wren Building of William and Mary (9/16/31), the Raleigh Tavern (9/16/32), the Courthouse Archaeological Museum (4/24/33), the Capitol (2/23/34), the Governor's Palace (4/23/34), and the Ludwell-Paradise House folk art collection (4/1/35). The Public Gaol would open 4/1/36. The next building after that would be the George Wythe House (3/30/40).

   The number of visitors touring exhibition sites in 1935 was 62,172. The next year, 95,497. The only early year attendance decreased was in 1939, and that was due to the New York World's Fair. In 2010, 686,000 people visited Colonial Williamsburg.

   There were no trade sites. The first craft sites (first name for trades) wouldn't open until October 1937.

   Admission Passes didn't exist until 1972. At first, you had to pay admission at each separate exhibition building. The Raleigh Tavern, for example, was 50 cents ($8.51 in today's money). The Archaeology Museum and the folk art collection were free to the public (So were some craft sites that sold an item inside of them once they opened). After a while, exhibition site tickets were sold all together and did better than being sold separately.

   Hostesses leading tours, only females, were dressed in fancy gentry hoop gowns. Carriage rides were only for transporting hostesses to their site for the day or delivering mail. No one walked around in costume portraying anybody.

   No militia, no fife and drum regiment.

   Where could you stay in-town if you were visiting? The current Williamsburg Inn wouldn't open until 1937. The Colonial/Williamsburg Inn where Chowning's Tavern is now was able to be used, as well as Market Square Tavern.

   Tavern Dining Experience? You could eat in the Travis House.

   There was no Colonial Parkway under the town. Cars were allowed to drive on DoG Street. You could park right in front of the Capitol or Governor's Palace.

   The size of the city of Williamsburg was a few blocks bigger than the Historic Area. City Hall, Fire Department, Courthouse, Prison, Post Office, and Library were all inside the present-day Colonial Williamsburg area. If you lived in Williamsburg but not on Duke of Gloucester Street, you were in walking distance of the main street. Shops filled Merchants Square and small buildings along DoG Street.

   Other than Colonial Williamsburg, the main institutions of the town were the College of William and Mary and Eastern State Hospital. The College and the Hospital are most likely why Williamsburg, when it lost its capital status, did not die off like Jamestown did. With the addition of Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg during the Great Depression was not bad. (It wasn't the best either, no place was, but it survived.)

   When the Williamsburg Lodge was being planned in the mid-1930's, CW realized you could hear the screams from the Hospital on the Lodge's chosen plot of land. CW helped the Hospital fund new buildings on Dunbar Farm outside of town to send noisy patients to. That worked until 1945, when the Farm's buildings filled up and noisy patients were sent to the in-town hospital campus again. There were many complaints from lodgers at the Lodge. The problem was finally solved in the 1960's when Eastern State Hospital completely moved to the Dunbar site.

If you want a more visual tour, there is the previously posted "Colonial Williamsburg 1936" video, which I believe could have been filmed in 1935.

Sources Used:
Public Hospital: An Architectural History and Chronicle of Reconstruction
"The Williamsburg Restoration and its Reception by the American Public: 1926-1942," Dissertation by Thomas H. Taylor Jr, 1989
"Williamsburg Facts & Fiction 1900-1950," Book by Ed Belvin, 2002
"A History of Historic Trades," by James M. Gaynor
The Inflation Calculator
"Colonial Williamsburg: The First 75 Years," Book by Mary Miley Theobald, 2011 (Fourth Printing copy, 2011)
Colonial Williamsburg 2010 Annual Report

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