Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection, and Colonial Houses

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Discover Williamsburg Lodge, located in Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, one of the finest and most complete community restorations in the world.

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Williamsburg Lodge, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2000, dates back to 1750.

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Beginning in the late 1920s, renowned philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. had desired to open a brilliant boutique hotel in downtown Williamsburg, Virginia. He had specifically hoped the business would entertain the hundreds of tourists that had already started to arrive and experience the ongoing renovations taking place in the city’s colonial district. Rockefeller and this team of architects eventually opened a beautiful holiday destination known as the “Williamsburg Inn” roughly a decade later. Situated along the border of Williamsburg’s “Historic Area”—now the heart of today’s Colonial Williamsburg—the inn featured some of the finest amenities and services of the day. Nevertheless, the 61 guestrooms located inside were still not enough to accommodate the rising number of people who traveled to Williamsburg every year. As such, Rockefeller began planning to open additional lodgings near the Williamsburg Inn, with the greatest being a marvelous hotel he planned to name as the “Williamsburg Lodge.” Construction on the lodge began under the watchful eye of architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood in 1937. The work took nearly two years to complete and was a massive undertaking. Still, Underwood managed to craft a brilliant structure that reflected the colonial design aesthetics of the surrounding Williamsburg Historic Area—just like the Williamsburg Inn before it.

Meanwhile, Rockefeller instructed his main architectural team to begin transforming several historical structures within the Historic District into rustic guest cottages. In total, Rockefeller’s team selected some 27 unique buildings for the project. All of the structures were developed around the mid-18th century, with the earliest dating to 1750. Most of the buildings had also operated as outdoor kitchens or tiny shops, although some had been established as residences, too. For instance, one such structure—the Richard Crump House—was once inhabited by the Carter family, whose patriarch, James Carter, worked as a respected prominent surgeon. Another home—the Orlando Jones House—had actually served as the residency for the first rector of Williamsburg’s historic Burton Parish Church. While Jones himself was only well-known throughout his local community, his granddaughter, Martha Washington, would later rise to prominence as the inaugural First Lady of the United States. And the Nicholas-Tyler Office was even owned by John Tyler, a future U.S. President. In fact, Tyler had allegedly learned of his elevation to the presidency from inside the building! (He had then been serving as the Vice President under William Henry Harrison, who unexpectedly died in April 1841.)

The Williamsburg Lodge and the newly created “Colonial Houses” opened just before America’s entry into World War II. Like the Williamsburg Inn, both destinations quickly endeared themselves among the tourists who had begun flocking to Colonial Williamsburg. Over time, the Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses became just as celebrated as the neighboring Williamsburg Inn. Actor Cary Grant even stayed inside one of the Colonial Houses—The Quarter—while filming the Howards of Virginia on-site. (The movie itself followed the fictional story of a local Williamsburg family as they navigated the tense political currents of the American Revolution.) Today, each destination continues to exhibit the best in hospitality and strives to maintain their status as premier vacation retreats. Indeed, the Williamsburg Lodge has recently joined Marriott International’s distinguished brand, the “Autograph Collection,” as a way to guarantee the preservation of that prestige. Both members of Historic Hotels of America since 2000, the Williamsburg Lodge and the Colonial Houses are certain to enchant any cultural heritage traveler who steps inside.

  • About the Location +

    Williamsburg itself was first settled as a fortified town called “Middle Plantation” in 1632, following a brief, yet destructive war with the local Powhatan a decade prior. The town specifically governed over a series of palisades that served to protect Jamestown, Virginia’s main administrative center at the time. Nevertheless, Middle Plantation experienced newfound importance amid Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. That year, Nathaniel Bacon and a large group of disgruntled Virginia colonists openly defied the colonial governor, William Berkeley, due to his policies with the Native Americans. They soon fought their way south toward Jamestown, eventually burning the whole city to the ground. Berkeley and the rest of the colonial government fled to Middle Plantation, where they setup a temporary headquarters for the remainder of the uprising. Once Berkeley had finally put a stop to Bacon’s Rebellion, however, he quickly realized that Middle Plantation provided a much safer—and all around nicer—location from which to govern. As such, the colonial government permanently relocated the capital to the town, which they renamed “Williamsburg” after the reigning monarch of England, William III.

    Williamsburg rapidly became the most important settlement in Virginia for the next several decades, emerging as the main cultural center within the entire colony. One of the biggest forces behind this development was the newly created College of William & Mary. Colonists had attempted to create such a facility for years, with the first undertaking happening in the 1620s. After many failed attempts, the colonists tried one more time in Williamsburg during the 1690s. They hired Reverend James Blair to spearhead the effort, who successfully obtained a royal charter in London. Work on the new school began shortly after Blair’s return to Virginia in 1693, christening it as the “College of William & Mary” in honor the king and his wife, Queen Mary II. The college officially opened just a year later, offering classes inside the forerunner to the iconic Wren Building. Soon enough, the College of William & Mary developed an esteemed reputation for the quality of its education, prompting Virginia’s wealthiest families to send their scions to study on-site. In fact, many of the nation’s Founding Fathers enrolled at the school, including former U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe.

    Like Jamestown before it, Williamsburg ultimately lost its status as Virginia’s capital. During the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson—then serving as Governor of Virginia—decided to move the capital 50 miles inland to Richmond. He feared that Williamsburg’s location near the James and York rivers made it incredibly vulnerable to a British attack. But Williamsburg managed to survive the loss of its political identity, emerging in the wake of the conflict as an important economic hub for Virginia’s Tidewater region. Many entrepreneurs developed a bunch of canals around Williamsburg that allowed farmers to transport their goods to nearby regional markets. A branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad soon arrived in Williamsburg in the 1830s, further reinforcing its significance as a local transportation center. Its economic success even attracted the attention of the Union military during the American Civil War, with George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac seizing the city amid the campaign to capture Richmond in 1862. (The College of William & Mary also continued to build upon its enviable reputation throughout the 19th century, as well.)

    Save for the college, Williamsburg eventually slid into a period of decline at the start of the 20th century. Thankfully, that stagnation came to an end due to the efforts of Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin and his allies in the Rockefeller family. The pastor of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church, Goodwin had grown alarmed at the decay that many of the town’s colonial buildings had suffered. At first, Goodwin aspired to solely restore his historic church (founded in 1674), but he soon expanded his vision to encompass the entire historic downtown. Thankfully, he found a couple of kindred spirits in John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. The two Rockefellers were themselves committed preservationists and immediately supported Goodwin’s dream of saving Williamsburg’s colonial heritage. Starting in the 1930s, Goodwin and the Rockefellers gradually restored historic Williamsburg back to its former glory. However, the three also created a 300-acre “Historic Area” that served as an open-air museum called “Colonial Williamsburg.” Now a recognized National Historic Landmark, Colonial Williamsburg rates among the most popular cultural heritage tourism destinations in the whole country. Among the historic structures that guests can visit today in the Historic Area include the Governor’s Palace, the original Capitol, and Raleigh Tavern.


  • About the Architecture +

    Each one of the 27 buildings that constitute the Colonial Houses stands as a wonderful example of American colonial design aesthetics. Architectural historians today generally define American colonial architecture as covering a wide berth, subdividing it into categories like First Period English, French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, and Dutch Colonial. But most professionals in the field believe that the aesthetics embraced by English—and later British—colonists to be the most ubiquitous, given their widespread cultural influence during America’s infancy. It dominated the architectural tastes of most Americans at the time, until the Federalist design principles overtook them in the 19th century. The style was especially predominant in New England, which quickly saw the creation of another set of two unique subtypes—Saltbox and Cape Cod-style. A different take of English colonial architecture appeared within the southern colonies, as well, which some experts refer to as “Southern Colonial.”

    The building style resembled the general trends embraced by other colonists in British America, although they differed in that they constructed a central passageway, massive chimneys, and a parlor. Nevertheless, all of the buildings shared strikingly similar qualities. American homes of the age were uniformly simple, and made use of either wood, brick, or stone. Rectangular in shape, they typically extended two to three stories in height. All of the formal parts of the home were located on the first floor, while the family bedrooms occupied the upper levels of the building. The floorplans were also fairly limited in scope, designed to fill each level with just a couple of rooms. This simplicity was slowly modified by the arrival of Georgian-style architecture from Great Britain toward the end of the 18th century. Architects subsequently relied more upon mathematical ratios to achieve symmetry in their designs, and used elements of classical architecture for ornamentation.

    Meanwhile, the Williamsburg Lodge displays some of finest Colonial Revival architecture in the entire city. Colonial Revival architecture itself is perhaps the most widely used building form in the entire United States. It reached its zenith at the height of the Gilded Age, where countless Americans turned to the aesthetic to celebrate what they feared was America’s disappearing past. The movement came about in the aftermath of the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, in which people from across the country traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the American Revolution. Many of the exhibitors chose to display cultural representations of 18th-century America, encouraging millions of people across the country to preserve the nation’s history. Architects were among those inspired, who looked to revitalize the design principles of colonial English and Dutch homes.

    This gradually gave way to a larger embrace of Georgian and Federal-style architecture, which focused exclusively on the country’s formative years. As such, structures built in the style of Colonial Revival architecture featured such components as pilasters, brickwork, and modest, double-hung windows. Symmetrical designs defined Colonial Revival-style façades, anchored by a central, pedimented front door and simplistic portico. Gable roofs typically topped the buildings, although hipped and gambrel forms were used, as well. This building form remained immensely popular for years until largely petering out in the late-20th century. Nevertheless, architects today still rely upon Colonial Revival architecture, using the form to construct all kinds of residential buildings and commercial complexes. Many buildings constructed with Colonial Revival-style architecture are even identified as historical landmarks at the state level, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has even listed a few of them in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.


  • Famous Historic Events +

    Founding of Colonial Williamsburg (1934): While Colonial Williamsburg today is one of the most historical sites in America, its creation during the early 20th century was a monumental endeavor, too. Much of Williamsburg’s historic downtown had lost much of its character by that time, with more contemporary buildings scattered about the existing colonial structures. Even though some in Williamsburg were complacent in the loss of the historical character, one person—Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin—had become concerned. What first attracted his attention was the dilapidated state of the Burton Parish Church where he had started serving as rector in 1903. Dr. Goodwin subsequently spent the next four years petitioning his congregation to save the ailing structure, which had been in continuous operation since the beginning of the 18th century. The doctor even traveled around the East Coast in search of money to finance the project, ultimately establishing various philanthropic relationships with people like J. Pierpont Morgan. As a result, the church underwent a brilliant refurbishment that concluded just in time for the 300th anniversary of Virginia’s founding.

    Dr. Goodwin eventually moved away from Williamsburg to pursue a position at another parish in upstate New York, although he maintained close ties with the city over the following years. Nevertheless, Dr. Goodwin grew increasingly more worried about the other colonial structures in the heart of Williamsburg and began campaigning to restore them during the mid-1920s. It soon became clear to Dr. Goodwin that he needed additional resources to truly complete all the different renovations. Using his prior fundraising experience, the doctor partnered with some of America’s most influential people. But the most important connection that Dr. Goodwin made was with John D. Rockefeller Jr.—the heir to Standard Oil’s empire—and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Noted philanthropists, the Rockefellers had always taken a special interest in historical preservation. As such, John D. Rockefeller found a kindred spirit in Dr. Goodwin and his quest to save Williamsburg’s colonial past.

    Together, the three quickly deemed their project as the “Williamsburg Restoration” and set about renovating countless buildings over the next several years. Over time, Dr. Goodwin and the Rockefellers had restored enough structures that they were able to transform a portion of downtown Williamsburg into a 300-acre open-air museum that they referred to as the “Historic Area.” Supervising the renovations was a renowned architectural firm from Boston known as “Perry, Shaw & Hepburn.” Under their guidance, nearly 500 historic buildings were either rebuilt or restored to resemble their original appearances from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Perhaps the greatest structures in Williamsburg that the firm worked on were the Governor’s Palace and the original Virginia Capitol. Both sites were completely reconstructed on their original sites via a series of historical illustrations and descriptions that had survived into the present.

    Word of the renovations spread quickly throughout the United States, inspiring dozens of tourists to head to Williamsburg to see the progress for themselves. John D. Rockefeller Jr. quickly recognized the emerging popularity of the Historic Area, particularly regarding the potential income that the tourists could generate for the park’s continued preservation. As such, he took the idea of the open-air museum a step further by installing a number of restaurants and storefronts within a couple of the renovated structures. He even debuted a brilliant hostelry next to the Historic Area called the “Williamsburg Inn” just a few years after it opened as “Colonial Williamsburg” in 1934. Colonial Williamsburg has since developed into an international holiday destination renowned for the wealth of cultural heritage experiences that educate nearly half a million visitors each year. Not only has Colonial Williamsburg helped reignite a national interest in American history, but it was also responsible for starting the cultural heritage travel industry that now prosperous across the country. This fantastic National Historic Landmark is truly one of the best places in the United States to both reconnect with the past and have an incredibly memorable vacation.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Cary Grant, actor known for his roles in such films like To Catch a Thief, Charade, and North by Northwest.

    John Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841 – 1845)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    The Howards of Virginia (1940)

    Williamsburg: Story of a Patriot (1957)

    George Washington (1984)

    George Washington: Forging of a Nation (1986)

    John Adams (2008)

    Turn: Washington’s Spies (2017)


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