Meet Aliaya Blair and Arturo Sosa, two of the lifeguards taking shifts at the New Town pool this summer. They are part of a larger team of lifeguards (in fact, Aliaya and Arturo have an apartment for the summer with two other lifeguards) that may draw assignments at our pool, but also may work shifts at Stone Hill, Green Springs or other area pools.
Aliaya is studying pharmacy in her native Jamaica. She lives in St. Catherine Parish, not far from Kingston. She attends the University of West Indies, where she has three years remaining.
She has been to the US several times before to visit relatives in NY, NJ and OH. When she visits, her favorite thing in the US that is unavailable in Jamaica is Dunkin’ Donuts doughnuts
Arturo is in the US for the first time this summer. He is from the Dominican Republic. He had been in Williamsburg only about two weeks at the time of our interview but he is already liking it. He had also spent time in MD for training. He too mentions food (pizza and Chick Fil-A) as significant attractions of being in the US.
Arturo is studying medicine. He has two and half years left at university, but at 22, it seems likely he will have many years of additional training left to reach his goal of being an MD. While in the US, he plans to get up to New York City to visit an uncle before returning home.
When asked what safety rules they want to emphasize, both Aliaya and Arturo say first, “No running.” Arturo adds, “No diving.” The classics.
Enjoy the pool. Be safe. Share something cold with a lifeguard.
In the heart of New Town, flanking Sullivan Square, are two condominium buildings: The Bennington on the Park and Foundation Square. Each building has its own governance board, and at the heart of those are two residents successfully working to beautify New Town. Barbara Stratton owns and lives at The Bennington while Jim Kavitz is at Foundation Square. They exemplify the willingness to get involved that it takes to keep New Town an exceptional community.
Jim and Barbara
Barbara and Jim did not know each other until Town Management sought the involvement of both in a project to improve the landscaping at the entrances for Courthouse Street and New Town Avenue. This spring, many new plants were added to these entrances, selected for their deer and drought resistance as well as their added color. After this success, Jim (and other active residents including two master gardeners) continued working with Barbara on mutual projects and advocating for the beautification of New Town. Sometimes it is the small things, like sharing tools, advice on hardy plants and commercial sources. Other times, they think bigger about targets of opportunity in common areas like the Spring project at the entrances.
At Foundation Square, the residents have been particularly diligent in using gardening to enhance life there. The Crier did a story in October 2017 about the extensive garden of vegetables, herbs and fruits they maintain for the enjoyment of all New Town children. They have long augmented the basic maintenance funded by the New Town Commercial Association by buying and installing additional plants around the building.
Meanwhile, across the street at the Bennington, the basic landscaping was showing its age and had never been enhanced, but then their fee structure did not include such enhancements. Barbara found support from her board to fund new plants to improve the two entrances at The Bennington. That work has been recently executed. The formal entrance to The Bennington building is beautifully enhanced with the professional landscape design, provided by Coleman Nursery.
New Color Added This Year at the Bennington
Opposite, cascading vines and vivid color set off the entire front of Foundation Square, creating eye appeal for the street-side businesses and the condo residents. Through the addition of literally thousands of plants, the residents have color throughout the year. In the spring time, they even organize their own Daffodil Festival Day. Together, the landscaping color at The Bennington and Foundation Square brilliantly frames Sullivan Square with crepe myrtles and roses in bloom.
Color Across the Foundation Square Front
As an aside, while working on this article, I learned something about the homeowners’ association for both buildings. Condo owners pay fees to the Commercial Association, not NTRA. While the Commercial Association has an agreement with NTRA to allow the condo owners to access the pool and social events, the landscaping at the buildings is not an NTRA function. The landscaping efforts described above are funded as part of their own operations, but contribute to the beautification of all of New Town.
Neighbors making something happen together! Thanks to Barbara and Jim.
As Williamsburg area residents, we are familiar with the significance of the part of Virginia we call home. The Historic Triangle is one of the premier national sites for Colonial American history. But did you know that a site of historical importance can be found right here in New Town?
Take a stroll through our own Roper Homestead Park at the intersection of Casey Boulevard and Center Street and you will find historical markers identifying the parcel as the site of the Roper Homestead. In 1990 and again in 2004, New Town Associates (NTA), LLC, commissioned studies by the William and Mary Center for Archeological Research (WMCAR) as part of their permit application for development in New Town. Archeologists found the remains of two buildings and artifacts, including various quantities of kitchen and serving ware, nails, as well as oyster shells and animal bones on the site. They placed the time of occupation as roughly between 1800 and 1850. This corresponds to the eras known as the Early National Period (1789-1830) and the Antebellum Period (1830-1860). What is particularly important is that the structural remains and artifacts found have been relatively undisturbed and not superseded by other uses and time periods.
Kitchen Excavation at Roper Homestead Park
The post-Colonial period in Tidewater Virginia is an understudied timeframe. After the American Revolution, James City County experienced a period of significant decline. In 1796, British architect Benjamin Latrobe, of US Capitol fame, toured the area and remarked on the extent of the “poverty and decay” throughout the Peninsula. Between the late 1780s and 1820, after the capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond, JCC population declined by 42 percent as crops failed and the average landholding gradually decreased with the sale and division of plantations.
Given the undeveloped nature of the Roper property and the availability of historical records allowing identification of previous occupants, the site provides a rare opportunity to examine habitation over time. Nearly all of JCC’s records were destroyed in Richmond during the Civil War, but some court records, including land tax entries, were prepared in duplicate, allowing ownership to be traced locally.
Indications are the Roper tract was a relatively modest farmstead. The earliest record appears in 1803 when Randolph Roper was first assessed for 615 acres with some type of building valued at $1058. By 1820, the property was reassessed at $2146. The assessments of personal property also document Roper’s rising prosperity during the period, counter to the prevailing economic conditions. In 1803, Roper was taxed for one slave, age 16 or older, and a two-wheeled carriage. By the time of his death in 1822/23, records show that he owned 4 horses and a carriage valued at $50 and that there were 8 slaves on the homestead.
By 1826, the property had been divided among his heirs and eight individuals appear on the tax records. Only the tract of Ann Roper, who was possibly his wife, includes a building valuation. Ann transferred her tract to a John T. James in 1833. The lack of records showing him farming the land could indicate that Ann continued to work the farm as part of life occupancy rights. Crops would have included corn, wheat, oats, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Butter production, wool, cattle and pigs would also have been part of a mixed farm.
After the 1850 census, the building valuation decreased dramatically. In 1851, the land tax assessment of structures was only $100. This could indicate loss of property through fire or demolition or a change in use of the property. Subsequent ownership of Jones heirs, followed by the Darling and Taliaferro families, are less historically significant, although there are records from 1912 showing P B Taliaferro commissioning a survey in advance of planning a subdivision. In 1919, Clarence Casey and four other family members purchased the land that would eventually become New Town and held it until it was deeded to Carlton and Calvin Casey in 1962.
In 2004, the Roper site was designated eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. A 2005 interpretive and archeological management plan was commissioned by NTA LLC from WMCAR to provide guidance on how best to preserve the site as green space with public interpretation of the site’s archeological resources, leading to Roper Homestead Park as it appears today.
Editor’s Note: The New Town Activities Committee is in discussions with Joe B. Jones, MA, Director of WMCAR, which provided the information for this article, to speak about the Roper tract and its history at a future Noon Talk. Stay tuned!