Located on the Virginia Peninsula, James City County is included in the Virginia Beach–Norfolk–Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is often associated with Williamsburg, an independent city, and Jamestown which is within the county. As of 2007, the median household income was $70,487.
First settled by the English colonists in 1607 at Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, the County was formally created in 1634 as James City Shire by order of King Charles I. James City County is considered one of only five original shires of Virginia to still be extant today in essentially the same political form. The Jamestown 2007 celebration marked the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.
Today, James City County remains an important site of growth and economic development. With an increasing population and a generous endowment of skilled labor, the County attracts not only new businesses and entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of an ideal mid-Atlantic location, and one of the northernmost “right to work” counties in the country, but also retirees seeking the mild seasonal climate and the abundance of cultural events, economic opportunities and historic activities offered. The County is home to the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park, the massive Kingsmill Resort, and the Williamsburg Pottery Factory. The Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement attractions combine with Colonial Williamsburg, and are linked to Yorktown by the National Park Service’s bucolic Colonial Parkway, to make worldwide tourism to the Historic Triangle a major economic activity for the county. This highly developed tourist industry coupled with an open business climate, many favorable labor realities, high endowments of human capital from the nearby College of William and Mary and the presence of NASA, Jefferson Laboratory, and numerous defense contractors which give the region the highest concentration of scientists and engineers per capita in the nation.
Perhaps the best-known of the 20th century changes of a local nature which affected James City County was the Restoration and development of Colonial Williamsburg. Driven by the vision of an Episcopalian priest and initially funded by the heir to theStandard Oil fortune, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Colonial Williamsburg (or “CW” as it is informally known locally) became a world-class attraction like no other.
While the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg is within the city limits of Williamsburg and not located within James City County, in the earliest periods, CW acquired vast acreage in the entire area, notably to the north and east of the Historic District. Foremost was a desire to preserve views and facilitate the effort to allow a visitor to experience as much of the late 18th century experience as possibly with regard to the surrounding environment.
The entrance roadways to the Historic Area were planned with great care. Even in modern times, pathways from the Colonial Parkway and from the relocated U.S. Route 60 at Bypass Road and North Henry Street are without commercial development. The protected vista was extended along U.S. Route 132 in York County to the new road when Route 143 was built as the Merrimack Trail (originally State Route 168) in the 1930s. When Interstate 64 was planned and built in the 1960s and early 1970s, the additional land along Route 143 from the designated “Colonial Williamsburg” exit was similarly protected from development. Even in modern times, no commercial properties are encountered to reach the Visitor’s Center, although the land is very valuable and the distance is several miles.
The area to the immediate east of the Historic Area in James City County included a vast tract known as the Kingsmill Plantation property. It was bisected by the historic Quarterpath Road, dating to the 17th century, which led from Williamsburg to the James River at Burwell’s Landing. The manor house, built in the 1730s, had burned in 1843, but several brick dependencies survived (and still do into the 21st century). Immediately to the east of the Kingsmill tract was Carter’s Grove Plantation. It was begun by a grandson of Royal Governor Robert “King” Carter. For over 200 years, it had gone through a succession of owners and modifications. Then, in the 1960s, after the death of its last resident, Ms. Molly McRae, Carter’s Grove Plantation came the control of the Rockefeller Foundation, and was given to Colonial Williamsburg as a gift. At that point in time, the mid 1960s, CW owned land extended all the way from the Historic District to Skiffe’s Creek, at the edge of Newport News near Lee Hall.
(Carter’s Grove, at a distance of 8 miles (13 km), was operated as a satellite facility of Colonial Williamsburg, with several important programs there, until 2003. Eventually, most of the programs were relocated to be closer to the Historic Area, and the property was sold in 2007, with restrictive and conservation covenants to protect it. See separate article Carter’s Grove for more details).
In the second half of the 20th century, distant from the Historic Area and not along the carefully protected sight paths, the vacant land east of town which was owned by Colonial Williamsburg and locally known as the Kingsmill tract had been long unproductive for either CW or the community. That changed in the early 1970s, under the leadership of CW Chairman Winthrop Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, a son of Abby and John D. Rockefeller Jr., was a frequent visitor and particularly fond of Carter’s Grove in the late 1960s. He also served as Governor of the State of Arkansas. He became aware of some expansion plans elsewhere on the Peninsula of his St. Louis-based neighbor, August Anheuser Busch, Jr., head of Anheuser-Busch (AB). A businessman and promoter, he had originated the use of the now famous Clydesdale team as a company logo in the 1930s. In 1959, the company had opened what today is known as a theme park in Tampa, Florida which was known as simply “Busch Gardens”. It was visionary, and predated the massive Walt Disney World development nearby by several years; today it is known as Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
While details have never been widely publicized, by the time “Win” Rockefeller and “Gussie” Busch completed their discussions and negotiations, the biggest changes in the Williamsburg area since the Restoration began 40 years earlier were underway. Among the goals were to complement Colonial Williamsburg attractions and enhance the local economy.
The large tract consisting primarily of the Kingsmill land was sold by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to Anheuser-Busch (AB) for planned development. The AB investment included building a large brewery, the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park, the Kingsmill planned resort community, and McLaws Circle, an office park. A 60-acre (240,000 m2) portion was donated by Anheuser-Busch in the late 1960s to develop the James City County office complex.
AB and related entities from that development plan now are the source of the area’s largest employment base, surpassing both Colonial Williamsburg and the local military bases. In 2008, Anheuser-Busch ranked as the world’s second largest brewer.
The median income for a household in the county was $55,594, and the median income for a family was $66,171. Males had a median income of $43,339 versus $27,016 for females. The per capita income for the county was $29,256. 6.40% of the population and 4.10% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 7.30% are under the age of 18 and 4.80% are 65 or older.
Jamestown and the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park, each located within the county, combine with Colonial Williamsburg and other area attractions to share the Historic Triangle‘s status as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. With dozens of restaurants, hotels and motels, and resort and recreational facilities, the hospitality industry brings major economic activity to the county.
James City County is located 45 minutes from the state capital in Richmond and from the metropolitan port city of Norfolk. It is also two and a half hours from the nation’s capital in Washington D.C .
A significant advantage for all import/export oriented commercial enterprises is James City County’s close proximity to the deep-water ports of Hampton Roads. The County is within 40 minutes of the Port of Hampton Roads, the second largest commercial port on the East Coast with access to 75 international shipping lines.
Just to the east of the Anheuser-Busch properties, in the southeastern section of the county, on the south side of U.S. Route 60, the county’s James River Enterprise Zone, an Urban Enterprise Zone is located inGrove. The 5.6-square-mile (15 km2) area contains 2,400 acres (9.7 km2) planned and zoned for industrial uses. James City County is actively seeking additional industrial business in this prime area of the county. The sites within a designated “enterprise zone” offer state and local incentives to businesses that locate in those zones, invest and create jobs.
Since the James River Enterprise Zone’s inception in 1996, James River Commerce Center and Greenmount industrial parks have added tenants such as a Ball Manufacturing plant, an aluminum can plant which supplies Anheuser-Busch’s Williamsburg brewery. A distribution center for Wal-Mart and a Haynes furniture warehouse are also located there. Recently, a masonry supply firm and a Volvo equipment rental facility have each announced plans to establish facilities. Carter Machinery Company, a Caterpillar dealership with 17 locations in Virginia and West Virginia, announced in May 2007 that is building a new sales and service center on a 23-acre (93,000 m2) site. A large property adjacent to the James River which formerly housed BASF is currently vacant and other additional sites are also available for more development.
Although it received its royal charter as a city in 1722, approximately one-half of Williamsburg was located in James City County for many years. The courthouse function was relocated there from Jamestown, where the newer but historic 1770 Courthouse building was erected on Market Square. It was replaced in 1933 with a newer building nearby, and the 1770 building, substantially restored in 1989, is today part of Colonial Williamsburg’s attractions. Much more recently, another larger facility at 5201 Monticello Avenue, near State Route 199 has become the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse.
In Colonial times, and for about 100 years thereafter, Duke of Gloucester Street actually formed a prominent portion of the James City County border with York County, dividing the city down its primary street. Although Williamsburg was established literally along the border of the two counties, the unincorporated community of Yorktown along the riverfront area at the York River has always been the county seat of York County. After a new Virginia state constitution was adopted in 1871, independent cities, which were no longer located politically within counties, were created. Soon, Williamsburg’s charter was modified, and it was no longer located within either county. However, although politically separate entities, Williamsburg has remained the county seat of James City County, and they continue to share many services, including courts, several constitutional officers and a joint public school system.
Gated residential communities in the county include:
- Colonial Heritage
- Ford’s Colony
- Governor’s Land
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