Ten years ago I was living in Philadelphia, working as an actress and juggling various survival jobs. If you had told me that today I’d be married to an historic interpreter and living in the colonial capital, I would not have believed you. I had no idea there were full time residents in the Historic Area. Or what an Historic Interpreter was exactly. Then I moved to Virginia and met my husband. He told me he was an 18th-century farmer. I thought, “What?!?! How is that even possible? Surely, this guy is nuts.” Then I went to visit the small living history museum where he planted tobacco, wheat, and corn while caring for animals all in as close as possible to the 18th-century manner. My new acquaintance was indeed… an 18th-century farmer.
It turned out that my future husband always wanted to live in and work for Colonial Williamsburg. His family has been frequent visitors for generations. When he took me to CW and showed me around, I LOVED it! I spotted a cute little house and wanted to go inside. Before my then-fiancé could stop me, I had tried the front door. When that didn’t work, I ran over to the window and cupped my hands around my face trying to see inside. I asked, “What’s in here?” and he answered, “Someone lives there.” I backed away in horror; apologizing profusely to the resident that I imagined to be shaking his or her head behind the closed blinds.
I had so many questions! “People LIVE here? Which houses are rented? How many? Who rents them? How do you apply? Do the residents plant the gardens? What about the Christmas decorations? Are there indoor bathrooms? Kitchens? Central heating/cooling? Do the residents all live like it’s the 18th century? Can they have pets?” And so on. I don’t think I took a breath between questions. I had the good fortune to be traveling with someone who either already knew or could find out the answers to my stream of questions over the course of our trip.
My husband achieved his goal and now works full time for Colonial Williamsburg and I work part time as an evening interpreter. One of my roles is to interpret in the Taverns. When I interact with the guests, they often ask questions about my 18th-century persona and my modern life as well. When the guests find out that I really live in town, I hear those same questions I myself had several years ago.
So, here are the answers: Yes! There are residents in the Historic Area. If you don’t see a flag in front of a building, then the building is used as an office or private residence. There are approximately 75 private residences. Colonial Williamsburg employees and volunteers can rent the houses. You fill out an application for the residence you would like and then the Housing Committee chooses the next resident.
We do not have to care for the lawn or gardens. There is a wonderful staff who keeps them looking beautiful. The residents do, however, get to create their Christmas decorations. We can pick our own designs and themes. The Property Management Department provides the greenery and fruit. You can even get a professional to design your wreath(s) if you wish. This year, my multi-talented husband made a wreath celebrating all the activities at a Twelfth Night Ball.
The private residences do have indoor bathrooms, kitchens, and electricity. Most of the private residences are surprisingly easy to heat and cool with use of central heating, fireplaces, air conditioners, and fans (There are doors to every room, so we focus on the temperature in whichever room we are in). And no, we are not required to live as if it is the 18th century. We can have TVs, computers, smart phones, etc… (However, when the electricity goes out, this neighborhood is very well prepared!).
We do however try to keep modern noises to a minimum so they don’t spoil the environment for the guests. We can pull down the blackout shade and shut the windows so you may walk by and never know that we are binge watching our favorite shows inside. All while snuggling our two cats who love to sit in the windows and observe life in our colonial town (We call it Cat TV).
The founder of Colonial Williamsburg, Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin once said that Williamsburg cannot be just a museum; it must also be a living town. My husband and I are proud to be part of one of the most unique neighborhoods in the world. We are surrounded by generous and supportive friends and co-workers and could not be happier with our cozy little house.
Guest Blogger: Kate Tilley
Kate is an Evening Interpreter for Colonial Williamsburg. She lives in the Historic Area with her husband, Jan, a Public Sites Interpreter and frequent volunteer at the Artificer Shop in the Magazine. Kate also does freelance work as an actress, and is an Associate at Harris Talent Agency. Kate loves chatting with guests in the Colonial Williamsburg Taverns as her composite character, Mrs. Tilley; a seamstress with a penchant for “sharing news” about her neighbors. Kate and Jan are the proud parents of two fur babies, cats Grania O’Malley and Queen Elizabeth I (You can just call her Bessie). Kate also enjoys sewing, reading, hot tubs, all kinds of music (Seriously, she’s given her iPod an identity crisis), ice cream, Lagavulin 16 (Hint, hint, Santa!), Shakespeare, and hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is a recently converted History Geek.