A History Lesson

The first five years of my post-college life were spent working for a large financial firm in New York City. Like many young people, I had long dreamed of life in the big city following graduation. Almost immediately, though, I knew it wasn't for me. During the rare moments when my corporate overlords allowed me to take a break from Excel, I would walk up and down Park Avenue considering how I was going to make my escape. The quite obvious end to this tale is that I decided to co-found The Virginia Beer Company. The second-place finisher in the derby is much harder to guess: teaching.

I almost certainly would have attempted to become a teacher if the idea of opening a brewery had never germinated into a real business. And I know exactly what I would have taught: history! I fell in love with history in high school and entered William & Mary knowing that I would become a history major. I loved everything about my time studying history and still, to my fiction-loving wife's total disdain, choose historical non-fiction as my primary source of pleasure reading. I don't get to write about history very often anymore, so I am pretty excited to share some history as it relates to 401 Second Street!

The Frenchman's Map, depicting Williamsburg as it appeared in 1782.
The Frenchman's Map, depicting Williamsburg as it appeared in 1782.

Williamsburg (then known as Middle Plantation) was founded in 1632 and served as Virginia's colonial capital from 1699 to 1780. Williamsburg quickly lost prominence on the national stage and descended into a post-Revolution slumber following the British surrender at Yorktown and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The town remained a sleepy shadow of its former self well into the early 20th century, despite the Battle of Williamsburg causing significant damage and upheaval as Union forces marched up the Peninsula in an attempt to capture Richmond in 1862. Williamsburg returned to prominence in the 1920s thanks to the vision of Dr W.A.R Goodwin, a local Reverend, and the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Together, Goodwin and Rockefeller began restoring crumbling buildings from the town's colonial past. The result of their restoration is the world's largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg.

Goodwin and Rockefeller surveying the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.
Goodwin and Rockefeller surveying the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.

The first available image of the land that is now 401 Second Street is from 1937 (see below for all aerial images). The lay of the land should look familiar to anyone with knowledge of Williamsburg's road system (see Duke of Gloucester Street, Capital Landing Road, Page Street, and U.S. 60), but there is one important detail missing: Second Street doesn't extend far enough to reach 401! The next image, from 1953, shows Second Street extended into its current configuration (the prior configuration was incorporated into Penniman Road). The area is still quite rural despite the obvious infrastructure improvements over the prior twenty years. It's amazing to think that our building was constructed only seven years later!

Per our (admittedly limited) research, 401 Second Street was built in 1960 as a truck-servicing facility for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company. The aerial view from 1970 shows the character of the corridor becoming significantly more residential and commercial. The farm in the 1953 view, Middletown Farm, was turned into a residential development and Second Street appears to be a bustling thoroughfare. In the 1980s, 401 Second Street served as the home of a used car dealership, Blanton's Auto. The zoomed in aerial view from 1986 clearly shows the property almost completely covered with used cars for sale. At that time, the Second Street corridor was the main commercial strip in the Williamsburg area. With the completion of Interstate 64 in 1965 and upgrades to Route 199 in the 1990s, new traffic patterns detoured consumers and a period of decline began for Second Street, Capitol Landing Road, and Merrimac Trail (commonly known as the Northeast Triangle).

By the time the next aerial view was taken in 2002, Blanton's Auto had long since closed and the building had been purchased by its current owner. It looks remarkably similar to the 2013 aerial view, which is not surprising given that the building has not been used for any commercial purpose for at least 15 years. In recent years the Northeast Triangle (which spans both York County and the City of Williamsburg) has seen an uptick in commercial activity and traffic. We are looking forward to contributing to the resurgence of the area as we redevelop 401 Second Street as the home of The Virginia Beer Company. We'll be sharing some of our plans in future posts. Let's just say that the 2016 aerial view will be significantly different!