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NEWS | Sept. 3, 2013

Know your neighbor: Williamsburg

By Staff Sgt. Wesley Farnsworth 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Located just 16 miles west of Fort Eustis, sits a wealth of colonial American history, putting the knowledge and tradition from our country's forefathers within reach of local Service members.

Although Williamsburg is only 8.7 square miles, it is steeped in American history, and is home to several historical sites including the Jamestown settlement, the Yorktown battlefield and Colonial Williamsburg.

"We are home to the world's largest outdoor living museum," said Jackson Tuttle, Williamsburg city manager.

In 1781, George Washington cemented the city's place in American history when he assembled the Continental Army for the siege of Yorktown, the last major land battle of the American Revolution which later prompted the British to negotiate peace.

Long before that pivotal battle, Williamsburg was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699, under the original name Middle Plantation. Colonial leaders petitioned the Virginia Assembly to relocate the capital from Jamestown to Middle Plantation, which stood five miles inland on the high grounds between the James and the York Rivers. The new city was renamed Williamsburg in honor of England's reigning monarch, King William III.

Williamsburg was one of America's first planned cities, laid out in 1699 under the supervision of Governor Francis Nicholson, it was to be a "new and well-ordered city" suitable for the capital of the largest British colony in America.

A succession of capitol buildings became home to the oldest legislative assembly in the New World. The young city grew quickly into the center of political, religious, economic and social life in Virginia.

Williamsburg developed into a center of learning when the College of William and Mary was founded in 1693. The university has educated key American leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler.

When Virginia's state capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg reverted to a quiet college town. A restoration of Williamsburg began in 1926, after the Rector of Bruton Parish Church, Rev. Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, brought the city's historical importance to the attention of John. D. Rockefeller, Jr., who funded and led the reconstruction effort.

During a landmark visit in 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed its main road, Duke of Gloucester Street, "the most historic avenue in America."

Today, Williamsburg and the rest of the Hampton Roads area still maintains one of the largest concentrations of military personnel in the United States.

"We, along with the rest of the peninsula, grew up with the military," said Tuttle. "There is no place like this in the country. We're not just Navy, Army, Air Force or Marines -- we are a joint community."

In addition to historical sites, Williamsburg is home to wide variety of restaurants and stores including a 250,000 square-foot outlet mall.

Williamsburg is also home to numerous golf courses, museums, bike trails and the Williamsburg Botanical Gardens.

Active duty military, guard, reservists, veterans and their dependents looking to explore Colonial Williamsburg can take advantage of free admission tickets Memorial Day and Veterans Day weekends every year. They also offer discounted tickets through participating Morale, Welfare and Recreation offices at installations in the area.

Although Williamsburg is the only jurisdiction in Hampton Roads to not house a military facility within its city limits, Tuttle said the military is still very important to their citizens.

"While Langley and Fort Eustis are not as close to us as the weapons station, they are still very important to us," Tuttle said. "Our partnership with the military goes back to the [Revolutionary] war."

According to Jim Horn, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation vice president of research and historical interpretation, today's military shares similarities to their colonial brothers in arms.

"The military has been vitally important to this region since the [American Revolution]," Horn said "The early citizens shared many of the values of the men and women who serve today - sacrifice, honor, love of country, citizenship and resourcefulness."

According to Tuttle, Williamsburg offers Service members a unique opportunity to learn about the country they serve and be part a historic community.

"When you come here, you can learn about the founding of the country and understand the principles it was built upon," Tuttle said. "You can learn what it means to be an American. There really is no better place than the city of Williamsburg."