This website provides pictures, descriptions, and a brief history of of many of the colonial houses of Williamsburg. All of the houses selected were built during the eighteenth century and have been restored by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Actually a few of the selected houses were built shortly after Independence, which makes them technically not colonial houses, but they follow the colonial style. 


Jamestown, the first capital of Virginia was located in a swampy location. For some time there had been the desire to move the capital to a healthier site.  In 1698, the Jamestown state house burned down.  The new governor, Francis Nicholson, began to push for moving the capital to Middle Plantation, where the new college of William and Mary had been recently located. In 1699, the House of Burgesses (legislature) of Virginia approved the move. Nicholson set out to lay out the plan for the new capital, named Williamsburg after king William. The principal street, which led to the college, was named after prince William, Duke of Gloucester and heir to the throne.  The parallel streets, north and south of this one, were named Nicholson and Francis, after the governor himself. 


After the passing of new taxation by England in 1767, Massachusetts called for the concerted action of the colonies against these measures.  At Williamsburg, the Virginia House of Burgesses, under Speaker Peyton Randolph passed a resolution in support of the Massachusetts proposal, causing the Governor to dismiss this assembly.  The burgesses adjourned to the Raleigh Tavern in the city, and declared themselves an independent association. After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the burgesses appointed Randolph to represent Virginia at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Randolph was elected president of the Congress. 


Williamsburg's easy accessibility to the York and James rivers made it vulnerable to attack by naval forces, so the capital of Virginina was moved again in 1780, this time to the city of Richmond, further inland.  This caused Williamsburg to slow down, becoming a quiet college town. The lack of growth contributed to the preservation of its colonial buildings, since there was limited replacement with newer or larger structures.  The Reverend W.A.R Goodwin, the pastor of the Bruton Parish church in town, noticed the number of surviving buildings and convinced John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to finance the restoration and preservation of these buildings, beginning in 1926. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was created for this purpose, and it maintains these buildings to this day.

Colonial Virgina House Architecture

Most period Wiiliamsburg houses  houses were made of wood. A few of the wealthier residents built brick houses, which offered better protection against fire. English forms and traditions were adapted to the circumstances at Virginia.  The use of high ceilings and one-room deep plans fostered ventilation for the Virginia climate. A number of the houses shown on this website started as smaller houses and had sections added to it either on the sides or the back.  The most common original sections of the houses were one-room deep, following a traditional English organization with a central entrance and hallway and a room to each side, one of which was generally used as a parlor.  Another organization,  often used for deeper houses with a narrower front,  was to have the entrance and hallway at one side of the front of the house, and two rooms deep at the other side, the front room often serving as a parlor or office.


Full two-story houses were taxed more heavily than one-floor ones with lofts or attics, so the latter became the predominant structure, referred to as story and one-half houses.  The upper rooms were generally used as bedchambers. The use of gambrel roofs (adapted from the Dutch) provided more attic space while remaining at the lower tax rate.  Some of these gambrel-roofed houses actually have two levels of rooms in the attic space. 

Roof Styles

Most of the houses included have what is called a gable roof, a simple roof in the shape of a  vertical A or triangle, as seen from the side of the house.  Several of the houses have gambrel roofs, due to the advantage mentioned above.  Gambrel roofs start as a gable, but instead of maintaining a constant angle or slope, the angle becomes less steep part of the way down, providing two slopes. A few of the houses have more complex roofs, in an attempt at elegance. Hipped roofs have a slope on the sides also, which makes the sides look like inclined triangles  instead of vertical triangles.  Mansard roofs have two slopes on all four sides, although the higher slope is often nearly flat. 
Gable Roof

Gambrel Roof

Hipped Roof

Mansard Roof

Dormer Styles

Due to the extensive use of attics and lofts, for the economic reason mentioned above, most of the period houses have windowed dormers on their rooflines.  A dormer is a structure that protrudes from the slope of the roof.  The dormer windows provide  light and ventilation.  Compared to windows following the roof slope, dormers provide additional headroom, improving the usable space of the attic. Dormer styles vary mostly in the shape of their top or small roof.  Most dormers imitate the main roof with a vertical gable shape.  A few have a top slightly sloped to the back, usually shingled like the main roof. These are designated as hipped dormers.  Another style is what is called a shed dormer, where the top of the dormer follows the roof line.  These dormers are practical in the lower, less steep section of a gambrel roof.
Gable Dormer

Hipped Dormer

Shed Dormer