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is particularly important is that the structural remains and artifacts found have been relatively undisturbed and not superseded by other uses and time periods.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!
Children and Seniors Too
As a family friendly facility, the gym provides Kid Zone, an onsite childcare service where your children engage in age-appropriate activities while you work out. Classes such as Zumba Kids, Tae Kwon Do, and Kids Boot Camp introduce young children to the fun and benefit of regular exercise at an early age.
For seniors, there is the Senior Fitness program for low impact cardio, balance work, and resistance training that is easy on the joints. AFF is also a participant with Silver Sneakers and the activities it supports.
If you prefer to work individually, nine personal trainers are available by appointment to address your specific goals. Or you may choose to work out in the well-equipped open gym with the tools you need to reach those goals.
Interested in learning more about your personal nutrition goals?
Make an appointment with Diahnn Thompkins, a registered dietician. Need a refresher after a workout? There's a sauna. Hungry? Grab a protein bar or shake at the café.
As one of the outlets for healthy living in New Town, American Family Fitness is truly a "place for everybody."
This part of Virginia will be exposed to possible Tornado activity and damages over the next 8 months. You need to be Ready:
Know the Difference
Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss
your emergency plans and check supplies plus your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a
warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives!
Tornado Warning - A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Tornado
warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Go immediately to your safe room.
How to Prepare for a Tornado
? Dark, often greenish clouds – a phenomenon caused by hail
? Wall cloud – an isolated lowering of the base of a thunderstorm
? Cloud of debris
? Large hail
? Funnel cloud – a visible rotating extension of the cloud base, Roaring noise (like a freight train)
What to Do After a Tornado-Check for injuries. If you are trained, provide first aid to persons in need until emergency responders arrive.
• Fire/Police: Dial 911
• JCC Emergency Hotline: 757-875-2424
• JCC Emergency Management: 757-564-4315
This year of 2019 marks 400 years after the official beginning of the American slave trade. That year, some 23 Africans arrived in Hampton and were sold into enslavement. Many of these newly arrived Africans were scattered throughout the James River area - including Jamestown founded in 1607. Details of this arrival are still being research and studied.
William & Mary marks 2019 as a year to remember and recognize it is 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived not far from New Town. William & Mary, founded in 1693, has had an over three century relationship with African Americans; from owning enslaved Africans to build and maintain the campus; supporting enrolled students who brought their own enslaved to live with them; employing African American staff, supporting Jim Crow laws aimed at restricting the movements of African Americans and keep them separate from white Americans, enrolling African American students, employing African Americans in key administrative roles, creating the Lemon Project (a program to encourage scholarship on the relationship between African Americans and W&M), awarding African Americans Honorary Degrees, naming two dormitories after African Americans (one for the enslaved man named Lemon - the other after Associate Dean Caroll F.S. Hardy), to having African Americans on its governing body - the Board of Visitors.
The 1619 - 2019: Remembering 400 years website contains a list of events scheduled during the year. William & Mary invites community participation in these events.
The website also highlights two Board of Visitors’ resolutions important to 400 years of Remembering. In April 2009, the Board adopted a resolution that acknowledged William & Mary's role in slavery and the era of Jim Crow and established "The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation” as a long-term research project. In April 2018, the Board adopted a resolution in which members acknowledged that “William & Mary enslaved people, exploited them and their labor, and perpetuated the legacies of racial discrimination.” The Board expressed profound regrets for these activities and apologized for them.
There are other events and related experiences that are not sponsored by William & Mary, such as the “Angela Site” at Jamestown.
You may have seen our neighbor Ed Elmore walking his Dalmatian Chompsie along the trails surrounding New Town. Maybe you spotted them in town where businesses and restaurants are always happy to greet them, sometimes with a bowl of water for Chompsie on hot days.
Ed is originally from Baltimore, a fan of the city's Ravens and Orioles and the Colts who left that city years ago. He has lived since 1964 in the Tidewater area, most recently in Gloucester before coming to New Town. He left the Tidewater area for only five years in 1990-95 when his work sent him to Huntsville, Alabama.
Before his retirement seven years ago, Ed worked as a civilian for the Department of the Army in the Training and Doctrine Command in Fort Monroe and later Fort Eustis. Each day he commuted to work from his waterfront home in rural Gloucester. Wanting a more convenient, walkable and lively community where he could continue his active lifestyle, Ed found New Town the perfect spot.
Upon retirement from the Department of the Army as well as US Army Reserve, Ed has found the time to pursue the many activities he loves. He fell in love with running while a student at Christopher Newport University where he ran track. In earlier days, he competed in marathons including those in Boston, New York City, Virginia Beach's Shamrock, and the Marine Corps marathons. Today he continues to run regularly with a group of fellow enthusiasts.
Ed also loves biking, especially along the Virginia Capitol Trail, a route he loves for its safety from cars as well as its beauty. He also hikes the many trails in western Virginia, including those around Crabtree Falls near Waynesboro. He once completed a multi-day backpack hike from Front Royal to Harper's Ferry. In his "spare time," Ed is politically active and an avid reader.
Chompsie, Ed's canine companion, is one of the many Dalmatians he has rescued after falling in love with the breed years ago. Over those years he has given a home to several Dalmatians, male and female, but for the moment Chompsie is an "only child," although that may not be the case forever.
When looking for the right place to live and play, Ed - and Chompsie - have found New Town the perfect place, so say hello when you see them.