“Why do people have different tastes? I think it’s inside us.” Susan Booth is searching for the right words to explain how, despite spending decades in California’s San Francisco area, she and her husband picked up their lives and moved across the country to Williamsburg. It fulfilled a dream for Susan, who has found her niche in the colonial capital.
She’s showing me around the Henry Street Office, where a group of volunteers— “the Tuesday group”—is stuffing packets of goodies for Colonial Williamsburg Fund donors. Previously a bank, the spacious former lobby is piled high with boxes. Olivia Robinson, who supervises the fulfillment operations, has her desk just outside the old bank vault.
Groups of volunteers gather daily to send batches of thank-you gifts to donors: acknowledgment letters, calendars, Christmas ornaments, and issues of Colonial Williamsburg’s magazine, Trend & Tradition. Over time, they’ve become friends, sharing news and jokes and opinions, and the camaraderie that comes with working together for a worthwhile cause.
Susan has been a volunteer for more than 15 years, including stints giving tours of the Thomas Everard House and Wetherburn’s Tavern. She calls Williamsburg “the most beautiful place in the world,” a place where she has found peace and contentment a world away from her previous home.
It was a journey made possible by the love of her “country gentleman,” Harley, who passed away a few years ago. Their first visit to Colonial Williamsburg was a birthday surprise from Harley. They stayed at the Chiswell-Bucktrout House.
It became an annual pilgrimage. They stayed all over, including the Williamsburg Inn, but frequently returned to the Colonial Houses. Susan remembers memorable stays in the Ewing Shop and the Orlando Jones Kitchen. “We found the gardens so relaxing and beautiful that we used them as inspiration for designing our backyard in California.” She remembers being struck by the beauty of the crepe myrtle trees. “We went home and discovered we had a crepe myrtle blooming in our own backyard!” Without the change in seasons, she hadn’t ever noticed.
In between trips, Susan studied the pictures in A Window on Williamsburg, which has had a long run in print. “I can’t imagine anyone seeing those pictures and not being moved enough to want to see Williamsburg in real life!” Every year they looked forward to finding out what new Christmas tree ornament would be sent from Colonial Williamsburg. They became regular donors.
Even though Harley had modern tastes, he recognized Susan’s deep love for Colonial Williamsburg and eventually he came to appreciate it too.
In fact, they fell so in love with Williamsburg that they moved here.
Susan says they both loved being immersed in the history, beauty and “gracious living” of Williamsburg. Sometimes the beauty seems effortless. The 18th-century village is, of course, an elaborate illusion. The architecture was practical, not quaint. The dust alternated with the mud in the street. And oh, to imagine the ripe/rank odors that would have wafted in the air on a hot summer day. Let’s agree not to linger on that thought…
The illusion is preserved with an extraordinary amount of research, care, and hard work, much of it performed by my dedicated colleagues working behind the scenes.
“I was always impressed with the knowledge of the employees, but I took it for granted,” says Susan. “When I did the tours, I realized how much work went into keeping it running and making authentic changes.”
It’s an expensive proposition, one that wouldn’t be possible without donors like Susan, who give annually and without conditions. It’s those unrestricted gifts that make all the behind the scenes work possible. It’s not glitzy on the face of it, but it does make the beauty possible through the maintenance of the buildings and streets. It keeps the candles burning.
Susan clearly misses her Harley, but he gave her a wonderful gift by making her at home in Virginia. “Our dream was to come here, and we made it.”
What’s your dream of Williamsburg? Tell us what you can’t imagine Colonial Williamsburg without!