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Williamsburg, Virginia

Coordinates: 37°16′15″N 76°42′25″W / 37.27083°N 76.70694°W / 37.27083; -76.70694
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The Williamsburg Governor's Palace in 2012
The Williamsburg Governor's Palace in 2012
Flag of Williamsburg
Official seal of Williamsburg
Coat of arms of Williamsburg
Location in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Location in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Williamsburg is located in Virginia
Williamsburg is located in the United States
Coordinates: 37°16′15″N 76°42′25″W / 37.27083°N 76.70694°W / 37.27083; -76.70694
CountryUnited States
Named forWilliam III of England[1]
 • MayorDoug Pons
 • Vice MayorPat Dent
 • Total9.10 sq mi (23.57 km2)
 • Land8.94 sq mi (23.15 km2)
 • Water0.16 sq mi (0.42 km2)
82 ft (15 m)
 • Total15,425
 • Density1,700/sq mi (650/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s)757, 948
FIPS code51-86160[4]
GNIS feature ID1498551[5]

Williamsburg is an independent city in Virginia, United States. As of the 2020 census, it had a population of 15,425.[6] Located on the Virginia Peninsula, Williamsburg is in the northern part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. It is bordered by James City County on the west and south and York County on the east.

English settlers founded Williamsburg in 1632 as Middle Plantation, a fortified settlement on high ground between the James and York rivers, and farther inland than their headquarters at Jamestown. The city functioned as the capital of the Colony and Commonwealth of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and became the center of political events in Virginia leading to the American Revolution. The College of William & Mary, established in 1693, is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and the only one of the nine colonial colleges in the South. Its alumni include three U.S. presidents as well as many other important figures in the nation's early history.

The city's tourism-based economy is driven by Colonial Williamsburg, the city's restored Historic Area. Along with nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg forms part of the Historic Triangle, which annually attracts more than four million tourists.[7] Modern Williamsburg is also a college town, inhabited in large part by William & Mary students, faculty and staff.



17th century


Before English settlers arrived at Jamestown to establish the Colony of Virginia in 1607, the area that would become Williamsburg formed part of the territory of the Powhatan Confederacy. By the 1630s, English settlements had grown to dominate the lower (eastern) portion of the Virginia Peninsula, and Powhatan tribes had abandoned their nearby villages. Between 1630 and 1633, after the war that followed the Indian Massacre of 1622, English colonists constructed a defensive palisade across the peninsula and a settlement named Middle Plantation as a primary guard-station along the palisade.[8]

Jamestown, the original capital of Virginia Colony, burned down during the events of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. Once Governor William Berkeley had regained control, temporary government headquarters were established about 12 miles (19 km) away on the high ground at Middle Plantation, pending the rebuilding of the Statehouse at Jamestown. The members of the House of Burgesses discovered that the "temporary" location was both safer and more pleasant than Jamestown, which was humid and plagued with mosquitoes.

A school of higher education had long been an aspiration of the colonists. An early attempt at Henricus failed after the Indian Massacre of 1622; the location at the outskirts of the developed part of the colony had left it vulnerable to attack. In the 1690s, the colonists again tried to establish a school. They commissioned Reverend James Blair, who spent several years in England lobbying, and finally obtained a royal charter for the desired new school. It was to be named the College of William & Mary in honor of the monarchs of the time. When Blair returned to Virginia, the new school was founded in a safe place, Middle Plantation, in 1693. Classes began in temporary quarters in 1694, and construction soon started on the College Building, a precursor to the Wren Building.

Four years later, in 1698, the rebuilt Statehouse in Jamestown burned down again, this time accidentally. The government again "temporarily" relocated to Middle Plantation, and in addition to the better climate now also enjoyed use of the college's facilities. The college students made a presentation to the House of Burgesses, and it was agreed in 1699 that the colonial capital would move to Middle Plantation permanently. A village was laid out and Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg in honor of King William III of England, befitting the town's newly elevated status.

After Williamsburg's designation as the colony's capital, immediate provision was made for construction of a capitol building and for platting the city according to Theodorick Bland's survey. His design utilized the college's extant sites and the almost new Bruton Parish Church as focal points, and placed the new Capitol building opposite the college, with Duke of Gloucester Street connecting them.

Alexander Spotswood, who arrived in Virginia as lieutenant governor in 1710, had several ravines filled and streets leveled, and assisted in erecting additional college buildings, a church, and a magazine for the storage of arms. In 1722, Williamsburg was granted a royal charter as a "city incorporate", which is now believed to be the oldest charter in the United States.[9]

Middle Plantation was included in James City Shire when it was established in 1634, as the colony reached a total population of approximately 5,000. (James City and Virginia's other shires changed their names a few years later; James City Shire then became known as James City County). The middle ground ridge-line was essentially the dividing line with Charles River Shire, which was renamed York County after King Charles I (r. 1625–1649) fell out of favor with the citizens of England. As Middle Plantation (and later Williamsburg) developed, the boundaries were adjusted slightly. For most of the colonial period, the border between the two counties ran down the center of Duke of Gloucester Street.

18th century


For almost a century after the 1776 formation both of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of the United States, despite practical complications, the town remained divided between the two counties.

Williamsburg was the site of the first attempted canal in the United States. In 1771, Lord Dunmore, who was Virginia's last Royal Governor, announced plans to connect Archer's Creek, which leads to the James River, with Queen's Creek, leading to the York River. It would have formed a water route across the Virginia Peninsula, but was not completed. Remains of this canal are visible at the rear of the grounds behind the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg.[10]

In the 1770s, the first purpose-built psychiatric hospital in the United States, the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, was founded in the city. Known in modern times as Eastern State Hospital, it was established by Act of the Virginia colonial legislature on June 4, 1770. The Act to "Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds" authorized the House of Burgesses to appoint a 15-man Court Of Directors to oversee the hospital's operations and admissions. In 1771, contractor Benjamin Powell constructed a two-story building on Francis Street near the college, capable of housing 24 patients. The design included "yards for patients to walk and take the Air in" as well as provisions for a fence to keep the patients out of the town.

The Gunpowder Incident began in April 1775 as a dispute between Dunmore and Virginia colonists over gunpowder stored in the Williamsburg magazine. Fearing rebellion, Dunmore ordered royal marines to seize gunpowder from the magazine. Virginia militia led by Patrick Henry responded to the "theft" and marched on Williamsburg. A standoff ensued, with Dunmore threatening to destroy the city if attacked by the militia. The dispute was resolved when payment for the powder was arranged. This was an important precursor[citation needed] in the run-up to the American Revolution. Following the Declaration of Independence from Britain, the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1776.

On July 25, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed at Williamsburg and received with "applause under discharge of cannon and firing of small arms with illuminations [fireworks] in the evening".

During the war, Virginia's capital was moved again, in 1780, this time to Richmond at the urging of then-Governor Thomas Jefferson, who feared Williamsburg's location made it vulnerable to a British attack. Williamsburg remained a venue for many important conventions during the war.

Williamsburg ceased to be the capital of the new Commonwealth of Virginia in 1780 and went into decline, although not to the degree of Jamestown. Another factor was travel. In the 18th and early 19th-century, transportation in the colony was largely by canals and navigable rivers. As it had been built on "high ground", Williamsburg was not sited on a major water-route, unlike many early U.S. communities. The railroads that began to be built in the 1830s also did not yet come through the city.

19th century


Despite Williamsburg's loss of the business activity involved in government, the College of William and Mary continued and expanded, as did the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds. The latter became known as Eastern State Hospital.

At the outset of the American Civil War (1861–1865), enlistments in the Confederate Army depleted the College of William and Mary's student body and on May 10, 1861, the faculty voted to close the college for the duration of the war. The College Building served as a Confederate barracks and later as a hospital before being burned by Union forces in 1862.[11][12]

The Williamsburg area saw combat in the spring of 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, a Union effort to take Richmond from the east from a base at Fort Monroe. Throughout late 1861 and early 1862, the small contingent of Confederate defenders was known as the Army of the Peninsula, led by General John B. Magruder. He successfully created ruses to fool the invaders as to the size and strength of his forces, and deterred their attack. The subsequent slow Union movement up the peninsula gained valuable time for defenses to be constructed at the Confederate capital at Richmond.[citation needed]

In early May 1862, after holding off Union troops for over a month, the defenders withdrew quietly from the Warwick Line (stretching across the Peninsula between Yorktown and Mulberry Island). As General George McClellan's Union forces crept up the Peninsula to pursue the retreating Confederate forces, a rear-guard force led by General James Longstreet and supported by General J. E. B. Stuart's cavalry blocked their westward progression at the Williamsburg Line. This was a series of 14 redoubts east of town, with earthen Fort Magruder (also known as Redoubt # 6) at the crucial junction of the two major roads leading to Williamsburg from the east. College of William and Mary President Benjamin S. Ewell oversaw the design and construction. He owned a farm in James City County, and had been commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army after the college closed in 1861.[13]

At the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, the defenders succeeded in delaying the Union forces long enough for the retreating Confederates to reach the outer defenses of Richmond.

A siege of Richmond ensued, culminating in the Seven Days Battles (June to July 1862). McClellan's campaign failed to capture Richmond. Meanwhile, on May 6, 1862, Williamsburg had fallen to the Union. The college's Brafferton building operated for a time as quarters for the commanding officer of the Union garrison occupying the town. On September 9, drunken soldiers of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry set fire to the College Building,[14] allegedly to prevent Confederate snipers from using it for cover. Williamsburg underwent much damage during the Union occupation, which lasted until September 1865.[citation needed]

Williamsburg Transportation Center, an intermodal facility located in a restored Chesapeake and Ohio Railway station within walking distance of Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area, the College of William and Mary, and the downtown area

In 1881, Collis P. Huntington's Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) built its Peninsula Extension through the area, eventually establishing six stations in Williamsburg and the surrounding area. The Peninsula Extension was good news for the farmers and merchants of the Virginia Peninsula, and they generally welcomed the railroad, which aided passenger travel and shipping. Williamsburg allowed tracks to be placed down Duke of Gloucester Street and even directly through the ruins of the capitol building. (They were later relocated, and Collis Huntington's real-estate arm, Old Dominion Land Company, donated the site to the forerunner of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.)

The railroad's main purpose was shipping eastbound West Virginia bituminous coal to Newport News. Using the new coal piers, coal was loaded aboard large colliers in the harbor of Hampton Roads for shipment to New England and to export destinations worldwide.[15]

Due in no small part to President Ewell's efforts, education continued at the College of William and Mary, although teaching was temporarily suspended for financial reasons from 1882 to 1888. Ewell's efforts to restore the school and its programs during and after Reconstruction became legendary in Williamsburg and at the college,[citation needed] and were ultimately successful, with funding both from the U.S. Congress and from the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1888, the college secured $10,000 from the General Assembly of the Commonwealth and established a normal school to educate teachers; in 1906, the General Assembly modified the college charter, took ownership of the college buildings and grounds, and assumed primary responsibility for funding it. Ewell remained in Williamsburg as President Emeritus of the college until his death in 1894.

Beginning in the 1890s, C&O land agent Carl M. Bergh, a Norwegian-American who had earlier farmed in the midwestern states, realized that eastern Virginia's gentler climate and depressed post-Civil War land prices would be attractive to his fellow Scandinavians who were farming in other northern parts of the country. He began sending out notices and selling land. Soon there was a substantial concentration of relocated Americans of Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish descent in the area. The location earlier known as Vaiden's Siding on the railroad just west of Williamsburg in James City County was renamed Norge. These citizens and their descendants found the local conditions favorable, and many became leading merchants, tradespersons, and farmers in the community. These transplanted Americans brought some new blood and enthusiasm to the old colonial capital area.

20th century

The Capitol Building depicted in a silver gelatin photograph, c. 1934
Colonial Williamsburg
The 9th G7 summit in 1983 in front of the Historic Capitol Building

In the early 20th century, Williamsburg remained a sleepy small town. Some newer structures were interspersed with colonial-era buildings, but the town was much less progressive than Virginia's other, busier communities of similar size. Some local lore indicates that the residents liked it that way, as described in longtime Virginia Peninsula journalist, author and historian Parke S. Rouse Jr.'s work. On June 26, 1912, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial that dubbed Williamsburg "Lotusburg," for "Tuesday was election day in Williamsburg but nobody remembered it. The clerk forgot to wake the electoral board, the electoral board could not arouse itself long enough to have the ballots printed, the candidates forgot they were running, the voters forgot they were alive."[16]

But even if such complacency existed, one Episcopal priest dreamed of expanding and changing Williamsburg's future to give it a new major purpose, turning much of it into a massive living museum. In the early 20th century, the Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church championed one of the nation's largest historic restorations. Initially, Goodwin just aimed to save his historic church building. This he had accomplished by 1907, in time for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Episcopal Church in Virginia. But upon returning to Williamsburg in 1923 after serving a number of years in upstate New York, he realized that many of the other remaining colonial-era buildings were also in deteriorating condition.

Goodwin dreamed of a much larger restoration along the lines of what he had accomplished with his church. Of modest means, he sought support and financing from a number of sources before successfully attracting the interest and major financial support of Standard Oil heir and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Their combined efforts created Colonial Williamsburg, restoring much of downtown Williamsburg and developing a 301-acre (1.22 km2) Historic Area celebrating the patriots and early history of the colonial-era.

As of 2022, Colonial Williamsburg is Virginia's largest tourist attraction by attendance and the cornerstone of the Historic Triangle, with Jamestown and Yorktown joined by the Colonial Parkway. In the 21st century, Williamsburg has continued to update and refine its attractions. There are more features designed to attract modern children and to offer better and additional interpretation of the black American experience in the town. A century after Goodwin's work began, Colonial Williamsburg remains a work in progress.

In addition to Colonial Williamsburg, the city's railroad station was restored to become an intermodal passenger facility. In nearby James City County, the c. 1908 C&O Railway combination passenger and freight station at Norge was preserved and, with a donation from CSX Transportation, relocated in 2006 to a site at the Williamsburg Regional Library's Croaker Branch. Other landmarks outside the historic area include Carter's Grove and Gunston Hall.

In 1932, a Catholic church was built to minister to students at the College of William & Mary. Old Saint Bede was made a national shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham.

On October 22, 1976, the third of three debates between Republican President Gerald Ford and Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election was held at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at the College of William & Mary, during which both candidates, perhaps in tribute to the historic venue and the United States Bicentennial celebration, spoke of a "new spirit" in America.

The 9th G7 summit took place in Williamsburg in 1983. The participants discussed the growing debt-crisis, arms control and greater cooperation between the Soviet Union and the G7 (subsequently the G8). At the end of the meeting, Secretary of State George P. Shultz read to the press a statement confirming the deployment of American Pershing II-nuclear missiles in West Germany later in 1983.[17]

21st century


On May 3, 2007, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visited Jamestown and Williamsburg.[18] She had previously visited Williamsburg in 1957.[19] Many world leaders,[20][citation needed] including President George W. Bush, visited Jamestown to mark its 400th anniversary. The celebration began in part in 2005 with events leading up to the anniversary, and was celebrated statewide throughout 2007, though the official festivities took place during the first week of May.[21]

On February 5, 2009, President Barack Obama took his first trip aboard Air Force One to a House Democrats retreat in the city to attend and address their "Issues Conference".[22][23]



According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 9.1 square miles (23.6 km2), of which 8.9 square miles (23.1 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km2) (1.8%) is water.[24]

Williamsburg stands upon a ridge on the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York Rivers. Queen's Creek and College Creek partly encircle the city. James City County is to the west and south and York County to the north and east. As with all cities in Virginia, Williamsburg is legally independent of both counties.

The city is on the I-64 corridor, 45 miles (72 km) southeast of Richmond and about 37 miles (60 km) northwest of Norfolk. It is in the northwest corner of Hampton Roads, the nation's 37th-largest metropolitan area, with a population of 1,576,370. Within Hampton Roads, Norfolk is recognized as the central business district, while the Virginia Beach seaside resort district and Williamsburg are primarily tourism centers.



Williamsburg is in the humid subtropical climate zone, with cool to mild winters, and hot, humid summers. Due to the inland location, winters are slightly cooler and spring days slightly warmer than in Norfolk, though lows average 3.2 °F (1.8 °C) cooler here due to the substantial urban buildup to the southeast. Snowfall averages 4.3 inches (11 cm) per season, and the summer months tend to be slightly wetter.[25] With a period of record dating only back to 1951, extreme temperatures range from −7 °F (−22 °C) on January 21, 1985, to 104 °F (40 °C) on August 22, 1983, and June 26, 1952.[26]

Climate data for Williamsburg, Virginia (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1951–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 81
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 49.1
Daily mean °F (°C) 39.8
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 30.6
Record low °F (°C) −7
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.77
Average snowfall inches (cm) 1.7
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.6 9.7 10.6 10.3 11.3 10.7 12.0 10.8 10.2 8.8 9.1 10.6 124.7
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.5 0.6 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.6
Source: NOAA[26][25]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[27]
1790-1960[28] 1900-1990[29]
1990-2000[30] 2010-2020[3]

During the Revolutionary era, African Americans made up over 50% of Williamsburg's population.[31]

Williamsburg was 78% White and 13% Black at the 2000 census,[32] and 71% White and 14% Black at the 2010 census.[33] The 2020 census indicated a dramatic demographic shift in the city, reporting that Williamsburg was 48% White and 37% Black.[3] Census data shows almost all of the Black population growth occurring in Census blocks containing William and Mary dorms, but data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia shows no growth in the number of Black students in William and Mary dorms during the 2010s.[34] University of Virginia researchers believe that the high Black population figure was not due to an actual demographic shift but instead due to "the Bureau’s decision to swap some census respondents’ identities with other respondents for privacy protection", a phenomenon known as differential privacy.[34][35]

2020 census

Williamsburg city, Virginia - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2000[32] Pop 2010[33] Pop 2020[3] % 2000 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 9,352 9,952 7,370 77.95% 70.74% 47.78%
Black or African American alone (NH) 1,593 1,918 5,648 13.28% 13.63% 36.62%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 31 35 20 0.26% 0.25% 0.13%
Asian alone (NH) 546 802 497 4.55% 5.7% 3.22%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 6 4 25 0.05% 0.03% 0.16%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 15 23 53 0.13% 0.16% 0.34%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 153 393 597 1.28% 2.79% 3.87%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 302 941 1,215 2.52% 6.69% 7.88%
Total 11,998 14,068 15,425 100.00% 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

2010 census

Age distribution in Williamsburg

As of the 2010 census,[4] there were 14,068 people, 3,619 households, and 1,787 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,404.1 people per square mile (542.1 people/km2). There were 3,880 housing units at an average density of 454.1 per square mile (175.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 74.0% White, 14.0% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 5.7% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 2.5% from other races, and 3.5% from two or more races. 6.7% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.

There were 3,619 households, out of which 16.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.2% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.6% were non-families. 35.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.07 and the average family size was 2.66.

The age distribution was: 9.6% under the age of 18, 46.0% from 18 to 24, 17.7% from 25 to 44, 15.0% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23 years. For every 100 females, there were 81.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,093, and the median income for a family was $52,358. Males had a median income of $28,625 versus $26,840 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,483. 18.3% of the population and 9.3% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 29.7% of those under the age of 18 and 5.5% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

A high proportion of Williamsburg residents derive a significant percentage of their annual income from investments, either in addition to or in lieu of income from work. This is because many retirees relocate to Williamsburg and typically draw income from investments such as 401(k) plans and the like.


Entrance to Busch Gardens Williamsburg featuring the countries' flags

The tourist volume of Colonial Williamsburg has attracted many related businesses to the area. Notable among these was Anheuser-Busch, which established large operations in James City County and York County just outside the city. The company operates a large brewery there. It also used to operate two theme parks near the brewery, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and Water Country USA, but both properties were sold to private investors after foreign brewer InBev took over Anheuser-Busch in 2010. Anheuser-Busch also previously operated a commerce park, McLaw's Circle, and Kingsmill on the James, a gated residential neighborhood that contains a resort of the same name.

Williamsburg has an outlet mall, Williamsburg Premium Outlets. A second outlet mall, Williamsburg Outlet Mall, closed in December 2013. Williamsburg Pottery Factory also has outlet stores.

Arts and culture

Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg is often associated with the larger American South. People who grew up in the Hampton Roads area have a unique Tidewater accent that differs from a stereotypical Southern accent. Vowels have a longer pronunciation than in a regular southern accent. For example, "house" is pronounced "hoose" in the Tidewater accent.[36] Due to the strong military presence in the Tidewater Area, the Tidewater accent has been slowly dying out for years.

Tourist sites include Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum depicting the lifestyles and culture of the 18th-century colonial period. Within this area is Virginia's first capitol building, the Governor's Palace, Bruton Parish Church (the oldest continually operating church in the United States), the Peyton Randolph House (home of Peyton Randolph, the first President of Continental Congress) and The College of William & Mary.

Other sites include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, The Williamsburg Winery (Virginia's largest), the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, the National Center for State Courts and the Virginia Musical Museum. Williamsburg has two theme parks, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. Presidents Park was an educational attraction that displayed outdoor statue heads and biographies of 43 presidents.[37][38] In 2010, Presidents Park closed due to financial issues.[39]



Williamsburg is part of Virginia's 1st congressional district, represented by Republican Rob Wittman, who was first elected in 2007.

When Williamsburg received its charter in 1722, it had portions in both James City and York County. In 1870, the Virginia General Assembly changed the boundaries so that it was entirely within James City County.

A year later, a new state constitution created the political entity known as an independent city, which is not located in any county. Williamsburg subsequently incorporated as a city in 1884 and separated from James City County,[9] but continues to share several constitutional officers with James City County. The city also operates a joint school division with James City County, under a voluntary agreement that leaders revisit at planned intervals.

As an independent city, Williamsburg has had a council-manager form of government since 1932. The city council elects the mayor, who presides over council meetings and serves as the city's Chief Elected Official. The city council consists of five members who serve staggered, four-year terms. It hires a city manager, comparable to a corporation's chief executive officer, who is usually a professionally trained public administrator and is charged with implementing the council's policies and directives and has broad administrative authority with strict rules prohibiting political interference in administrative matters.[40]

As of 2020, Williamsburg's mayor is Douglas Pons, and the vice mayor is W. Pat Dent. Other city council members are Barbara Ramsey, Ted Maslin and Caleb Rogers.[41] The city manager is Andrew O. Trivette.[42]

The city now shares all constitutional officers, courts, and the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools system (WJCC) with adjacent James City County, and is the county seat.[43] Until 1998, the city had its own Sheriff's Office. It was consolidated with the James City County Sheriff's Office, becoming Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff's Office.[44]

As a college town, Williamsburg's large student population has also resulted in a few conflicts with the city government. For example, in addressing concerns of property values and noise complaints near campus, the council has undertaken initiatives to reduce student off-campus residential presence in the city by instituting a maximum occupancy rule of three unrelated persons for single-family dwellings,[45] as well as a plan to buy rental houses with taxpayer dollars and resell them with the stipulation that the new owners must occupy them.[46] Until July 1, 2007, the voting registrar, David Andrews, had interpreted Virginia law to exclude a high percentage of students, arguing that students should be registered where their parents live. The new voter registrar, Win Sowder, said she is registering students as she would "any other resident of the city. If they're living in the dorms for eight months out of the year, and have an address located within the city limits on a Virginia driver's license, they're entitled to register to vote."[47] In presidential elections, Williamsburg was a Republican-leaning city for most of the time from the 1950s to the 1980s. Between 1948 and 1988, it supported a Democratic presidential nominee only once, in Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide victory over Republican Barry Goldwater. This changed in the 1990s when Democrat Bill Clinton won Williamsburg in both of his presidential campaigns. Due in part to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's strong showing as a left-wing protest candidate in the college town, Republican George W. Bush secured a very narrow plurality in 2000.

Democrat John Kerry won the city by a single-digit margin over Bush in 2004. In the elections since then, Williamsburg has swung heavily to the Democrats, and has become one of the most Democratic areas of Hampton Roads and Virginia. Democrat Barack Obama swept Williamsburg by 29-point margins in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In the 2016 election, Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Republican Donald Trump in Williamsburg by 45 points. Trump won 25% of the vote, the worst showing for a Republican in the city in over a century. Four years later, the city gave an equally massive victory to Joe Biden, who carried the county with 69% of the vote, the best showing for a Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

United States presidential election results for Williamsburg, Virginia[48]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 1,963 28.52% 4,790 69.59% 130 1.89%
2016 1,925 25.24% 5,206 68.27% 495 6.49%
2012 2,682 34.62% 4,903 63.28% 163 2.10%
2008 2,353 34.67% 4,328 63.77% 106 1.56%
2004 2,064 47.78% 2,216 51.30% 40 0.93%
2000 1,777 47.70% 1,724 46.28% 224 6.01%
1996 1,560 43.43% 1,820 50.67% 212 5.90%
1992 1,349 36.27% 1,856 49.91% 514 13.82%
1988 1,648 50.91% 1,534 47.39% 55 1.70%
1984 1,913 56.23% 1,469 43.18% 20 0.59%
1980 1,344 45.51% 1,199 40.60% 410 13.88%
1976 1,654 51.77% 1,468 45.95% 73 2.28%
1972 1,786 57.46% 1,274 40.99% 48 1.54%
1968 1,156 46.73% 991 40.06% 327 13.22%
1964 906 43.29% 1,171 55.95% 16 0.76%
1960 721 59.10% 486 39.84% 13 1.07%
1956 775 62.60% 362 29.24% 101 8.16%
1952 797 62.12% 483 37.65% 3 0.23%
1948 334 39.34% 312 36.75% 203 23.91%
1944 211 31.45% 454 67.66% 6 0.89%
1940 168 31.05% 367 67.84% 6 1.11%
1936 96 19.63% 389 79.55% 4 0.82%
1932 99 19.60% 387 76.63% 19 3.76%
1928 98 24.02% 310 75.98% 0 0.00%
1924 31 13.60% 196 85.96% 1 0.44%
1920 62 27.19% 166 72.81% 0 0.00%
1916 21 17.80% 97 82.20% 0 0.00%
1912 11 7.91% 113 81.29% 15 10.79%
1908 48 28.24% 120 70.59% 2 1.18%
1904 37 26.06% 103 72.54% 2 1.41%
1900 88 34.38% 161 62.89% 7 2.73%
1896 90 43.48% 113 54.59% 4 1.93%
1892 120 49.38% 122 50.21% 1 0.41%
1884 177 60.41% 116 39.59% 0 0.00%
1880 108 46.15% 126 53.85% 0 0.00%


Matthew Whaley Elementary School, the sole public elementary school in Williamsburg
The Wren Building on the campus of The College of William & Mary

The Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools operates the following schools in Williamsburg: Matthew Whaley School, Berkeley Middle School, James Blair Middle School, Lafayette High School, and Warhill High School.[citation needed]

There are several private schools that also serve the Williamsburg and James City Country area, including Williamsburg Christian Academy, a Christian International Baccalaureate School, Walsingham Academy, a private Catholic school serving pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, Williamsburg Montessori School, and Providence Classical School.

The city has been the home to The College of William & Mary since its founding in 1693, making it America's second-oldest college (after Harvard University). Technically a university, William & Mary was also the first U.S. institution to have a Royal Charter, and the only one to have coat-of-arms from the College of Arms in London. The campus adjoins the Historic District, and the Wren Building at the head of Duke of Gloucester Street was one of the earliest restored by W. A. R. Goodwin and the family of John D. Rockefeller Jr. as they began creating Colonial Williamsburg. Over 70% of the college's students either work part-time or volunteer in the community. Students contribute over 300,000 hours of volunteer service to Williamsburg annually.[49]



Williamsburg is primarily served by two newspapers, The Virginia Gazette and Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily.[50]

The Gazette is a biweekly, published in Williamsburg, and was the first newspaper to be published south of the Potomac River, starting in 1736.[citation needed] Its publisher was William Parks, who had similar ventures in Maryland.[51][52] After his death in 1750, Parks's shop foreman William Hunter restarted the paper in 1751.[53]

The Daily Press, published in nearby Newport News, covers local, regional, and national news. The College of William & Mary has two student newspapers, the student-fee-supported campus newspaper The Flat Hat and the independent campus newspaper The Virginia Informer.[54] William & Mary students produce many other publications and run their own radio station, WCWM. Hampton Roads Magazine is a bimonthly regional magazine for Williamsburg and the Hampton Roads area.[55] Williamsburg is served by a variety of AM and FM radio stations, with towers around the Hampton Roads area.[56]

Williamsburg is served by the NorfolkPortsmouthNewport News designated market area (DMA), the nation's 42nd-largest, with 712,790 homes (0.64% of the total U.S.).[57]




Greyhound's bus loading at Williamsburg's Transportation Center

Williamsburg is located adjacent to Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 60, which connect the city with Richmond to the northwest and Norfolk to the southeast. State Route 199, officially named the Humelsine Parkway after a former Colonial Williamsburg president, surrounds the city in a semicircle. State Route 5 links the city with the James River Plantations along the north shore of the James River, Interstate 295 and Richmond. State Route 31 provides a route to Jamestown and the toll-free Jamestown Ferry. The Colonial Parkway provides a bucolic low-speed link to Jamestown and Yorktown, passing under Colonial Williamsburg in a tunnel. With the exception of buses, commercial vehicles are not allowed on the Parkway.[58]

The community's public bus system, Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA), has its central hub at the transportation center. A network of disabled-accessible transit bus routes serve the city, James City County, and most portions of York County adjacent to the Williamsburg area, with hourly service seven days a week, and half-hourly service on select routes during peak weekday hours. The routes operated by WATA include a loop around the William & Mary campus while classes are in session. The system also provides paratransit services and operates replica trolley buses at the Yorktown Riverfront attraction.[59] WATA connects with the much larger Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) bus system at Lee Hall in northwestern Newport News and at the Williamsburg Transportation Center.[60]

Walking is a major mode of transportation in Williamsburg, with about a fifth of people walking to work between 2006 and 2010.[61] Walk Score, a website which algorithmically determines how friendly communities are to walkers, describes the city as "very walkable".[62] With few exceptions, motorized traffic is not allowed on Duke of Gloucester Street, which passes through Colonial Williamsburg and the shopping district of Merchant's Square.[63] The city is also increasingly bicycle-friendly, having built 48 miles of bicycle facilities in the area since 1992.[64] Upon completion, the Virginia Capital Trail will provide a paved off-road path to Richmond for bicyclists and pedestrians via the Colonial Parkway.

The primary airport for the Virginia Peninsula is the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in Newport News, a twenty-minute drive from Williamsburg.[65] Norfolk International Airport and Richmond International Airport also serve passengers from the city. Amtrak serves Williamsburg with three trains a day stopping at the Amtrak Station. The line runs west along the Virginia Peninsula to Richmond and points beyond. A high-speed rail connection at Richmond to both the Northeast Corridor and the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor are also under study.[66] Intercity bus services are provided by Greyhound.



Waller Mill Reservoir is the main water source for Williamsburg. A 350-acre lake holding 1.5 billion gallons of water, it has been in operation since 1945. The City owns a large percentage of the surrounding watershed. During drought, this source may be supplemented by groundwater from a well at Waller Mill and from raw (untreated) water from Newport News Waterworks under a long-term agreement.[67]

The City provides wastewater services for residents and transports wastewater to the regional Hampton Roads Sanitation District treatment plants.[68]

Notable people


In Fiction


Williamsburg, Virginia, was the second location of the Magical Congress of the United States of America in J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World.

See also



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Further reading

  • Bryson, William Hamilton (2000). Virginia Law Books: Essays and Bibliographies, Volume 239. American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0871692392.
  • McCartney, Martha W. (1977). James City County: Keystone of the Commonwealth. Virginia Beach: Donning and Company. ISBN 0-89865-999-X.
  • Morgan, Timothy E. (2004). Williamsburg: A City that History Made. Charleston, SC: Arcadia. ISBN 978-0-738-52473-3.