Eighty years ago this week, an estimated crowd of 15,000 lined the streets to catch a glimpse of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his motorcade passed.
From his perch in the backseat, FDR saw a main street transformed, stripped of utility poles and gas stations and drug stores in favor of colonial shops and houses.
At the Capitol, Roosevelt participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially reopen Duke of Gloucester Street. In brief remarks, he said, “What a thrill it has been to me to return today and have the honor of formally opening Duke of Gloucester Street, which rightly can be called, ‘The most historic avenue in all America.’ ”
Roosevelt proceeded from DOG Street to the inauguration of the College of William & Mary’s new president, John Stewart Bryan.
Bryan presented FDR with an honorary Doctor of Laws from the college.
Roosevelt paid tribute to the creation of Colonial Williamsburg and tied it to the college’s educational mission.
“What a joy it has been,” he said, “to come back and see the transformation that has taken place, to see the Capitol and the Governor’s Palace and all the other buildings which have arisen even since I was here 2 1/2 years ago, to see 61 colonial buildings restored, 94 colonial buildings rebuilt, to see the magnificent gardens of colonial days reconstructed.”
“In short, to see how the renascence of these physical landmarks, that in them the atmosphere of a whole glorious chapter of our history has been recaptured.”
Even though FDR’s visit came during the depths of the Great Depression, his comments spoke to the importance of education for citizenship.
“All of us must honor and encourage those young men and young women whose ambitions lead them to seek specialization in science, specialization in scholarship. … The nation is using their services in every form of human activity.”
“Private business employs them. Private enterprise and government will continue to do so. But at the same time there is a definite place in American life, an important place, for a broad, liberal and nonspecialized education.”
“I would extend my heartiest good wishes to the College of William and Mary, built early in the morning of American life, dedicated to the education of the makers of a great republic, seeking to enrich, seeking to broaden the meaning of education and seeking above all things to recognize that republican institutions are in the last analysis the application of… those broad humane ideals that a liberal education preserves and enriches and expands in our beloved land.”
Eighty years later, Duke of Gloucester Street continues to evolve with our understanding of the 18th-century town. But the foundation’s mission remains focused on a better understanding of our founding values.