Single-minded determination is the Historic Area’s salvation. Author Will Molineux continues his discussion of the restoration.
Lloyd Dobyns: Hi! Welcome to Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present on history.org. This is "Behind the Scenes" where you meet the people who work here. That's my job. I'm Lloyd Dobyns, and mostly I ask questions.
This week, we continue our conversation about Williamsburg's restoration with Will Molineux, who is a frequent contributor to the Colonial Williamsburg Journal.
One of the things, I think, that is a difficulty of creating the story of the restoration of Williamsburg is that Dr. Goodwin, he just wanted the thing done. He wasn't the only one who thought of it, he was just the only one who did anything about it.
Will: Dr. Goodwin was single-minded in this. There's a marvelous story. The day after City Council agreed to sell, or to permit the public lands in Williamsburg – that's the Palace Green and the Courthouse Green, what we call Market Square today – to the restoration on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street around the Powder Magazine, there were buildings there. They all had to be acquired and torn down.
The day after he received permission for that, he walked through town, and he found a traveling show, a tent show set up on the Courthouse Green. It drove him crazy. He went wild. Here they were, this tent show, that was there with the permission of City Council. Actually, it was a fundraiser for the fire department. He thought it was an infringement on the public green.
He wrote a letter that was published on the front page of the Daily Press in Newport News. He wrote New York City to Mr. Rockefeller, explaining what had happened and how outraged he was. Well, City Council had agreed to allowing this traveling show to set up shop well before they agreed to turn over the rights to the public square to the Rockefeller organization. There wasn't anything Goodwin could do about it, except to make sure that they never returned.
Lloyd: One of the things that had to go away was the school that served Williamsburg. That was Matthew Whaley School. Do you remember anything about that? As I remember, it wasn't a very popular move.
Will: The high school, The Matthew Whaley School, was at the northern end of Palace Green. Sitting in front of that was the foundations of the Governor's Palace. I believe, in the early 1930s – I may have my dates a little foggy here – the city put up a high school called Williamsburg High School. It was erected on the foundation, on the site of the Governor's Palace, the 18th-century Governor's Palace. This was opposed by the A.P.V.A., the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and others, as an infringement on a historic site. Again, my argument: the people understood the importance of 18th-century Williamsburg.
But, it was erected, and was torn down by the restoration. Matthew Whaley School, which was a grade school and a high school for white students was erected a block away, at the head of Nassau Street. The high school, of course, was torn down and the Governor's Palace was reconstructed on the site. The "Matty School," or the Matthew Whaley School, the old ancient one that was in the backyard of the high school, was torn down.
Lloyd: When you start getting into this, and getting into the ins and outs of it, there are all sorts of little stories about who did what, when. It's very difficult to keep them straight, because you probably could recite 200, 250 separate stories. Is there any one about Dr. Goodwin that's kind of fun, or interesting, or not well known?
Will: His daughter, in the 1950s, wrote a small booklet recalling her days growing up in Williamsburg. In that, she tells of an incident of a fire on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street, opposite Bruton Parish Church. Now, the Goodwins lived there at that time. The rectory at Bruton Parish Church was across the street from the church itself. The rectory was not on fire. The house next door was on fire, and sparks were flying up and above the rooftops. This alarmed Dr. Goodwin. He got wet blankets – according to his daughter – and climbed up the tower of Bruton Parish Church and out on the roof to put down wet blankets to prevent sparks from setting fire to Bruton Parish Church. When the fire was extinguished, he came down. The rectory was not damaged, but the house next door was. The church was not damaged, either. According to his daughter, Dr. Goodwin's wife chastised him for climbing up there and putting the blankets on the roof because he could have fallen off, and there was danger there. He reportedly said, "I can always get another house and another family, but I can never get another Bruton."
Lloyd: (Laughs.) Oh, I'll bet his wife loved that.
Will: Well, the daughter wrote it 50 years later, so.
Lloyd: Goodbye, dear. I'll miss you, but not much. That's wonderful.
Will: If you ever look at the pitch of that roof, you will wonder how he did it.
Lloyd: Oh, I do. I've seen the church many times. That's not just something you're going to stroll across. Even if you want to save the church, you're going to have to be careful, or wish you had been. You brought some pictures. One you showed me before. Show me the picture of City Hall again, I love that.
Will: Well, City Hall was a dilapidated building that was on a street that ran from Duke of Gloucester Street to Francis Street. It was one block of South England Street, and it came up in front of the Courthouse, the old colonial courthouse. Along that block was a number of small buildings, including the shed that held the fire wagon and City Hall, which was a two-story building, wooden building. It had a small balcony out in front, but from the picture, no one could possibly step out on it without tumbling down to the ground. On the back side -- there's a photograph of both the front and the back of the building -- and on the back side of the building there's two wash basins hanging outside the building on pegs, kind of indicating a storage problem, I suppose.
Next door was a garage where they repaired cars. They did some of this work right in front of City Hall, because there's an oilcan that's left on the sidewalk in front of City Hall that was caught by the photographer.
Lloyd: You can, if you wanted to illustrate how poor the city had become, the picture of the front of City Hall probably does it about as well as anything else. There's nothing there that you as a person would really want to be involved with. As you say, if you stepped out on that porch, that would probably be the last step you would take.
Will: You'd tumble to the sidewalk, for sure.Lloyd: That’s Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present this time. You can learn more at history.org/aboutus. Let us know what you think about the program, leave your feedback at www.history.org/podcasts. Check back often, we'll post more for you to download and hear.