Discover the charm of Ford’s Colony Williamsburg
In 2019, Betsy and Tom Keogan moved from Northern Virginia to Ford’s Colony, a move that was years in the making.
Ford’s Colony is one of Williamsburg’s most popular communities. Designed and built along landscaped roads that wind around golf courses, ponds and woodlands, the gated community is located just minutes away from Colonial Williamsburg.
Though the Keogans didn’t move “officially” until after Tom retired from his career as an engineer, they bought their home in 2017. Prior to that, Betsy spent several years researching potential places for their next move. A spreadsheet kept them organized.
“As I built my spreadsheet, it was clear that there were about 20 things that were really important to us,” says Betsy. “Williamsburg checked everything off our spreadsheet.”
Then, the tipping point.
About ten years ago, a blizzard dubbed ‘Snowmageddon’ hit the metropolitan DC area. That’s when the Keogans decided to trade the novelty of snow for Williamsburg and its mild climate.
“We’re free,” says Tom. “We could have moved anywhere in the country. We did want to be on the east coast close to waterways though. While we were living in Northern Virginia, we lived fairly close to the Potomac River where we took up kayaking, and that’s something we both enjoy. Also, I grew up on Long Island Sound, so I’m kind of spoiled.”
After deciding on Williamsburg, the next step was to find a house. And a realtor. For reasons large and small (see sidebar), they chose John Womeldorf with Liz Moore & Associates, aka “Mr. Williamsburg.”
“When we first started to look for homes in Williamsburg, I fell head over heels in love with a house in another community,” Betsy says. “But there were maybe eight streets in the whole neighborhood. Tom and I like to walk several miles a day, and we decided we’d exhaust everything interesting to see in that neighborhood really fast.”
The draw of Ford’s Colony
Situated on over 3000 acres, Ford’s Colony has been featured in Southern Living magazine and was also voted the Number One master-planned community in America. The Keogans are avid outdoorspeople, so for them the size and aesthetic of the neighborhood is a distinct positive.
Ford’s Colony is like a large collection of smaller neighborhoods. It attracts residents of all ages and diverse backgrounds, experiences, and careers. There are two Olympic-sized community pools, as well as tennis and pickle ball courts, and walking and bicycle paths that meander through rolling hills and woods.
There are also miles and miles of dedicated paths and walkways throughout. Last but not least, there’s a country club with three semi-private golf courses, each with its own challenges and highlights.
For the Keogans, however, the icing on the cake included the fact that residents of Ford’s Colony have access to over 60 clubs and activities.
“There are literally two or three things I can do any day of the week,” says Betsy. “And I try and do them all!”
Both Tom and Betsy are active in several clubs. As this interview took place, Betsy was busy preparing for an upcoming Theatre Club production.
Residents receive a monthly newsletter, The Talk of the Colony, which is chock full of information about the clubs at Ford’s Colony and a synopsis of what’s going on with the HOA, or around the community in any given month.
During pandemic, the Keogans say that the standing joke was “we live in maybe the best place in the world in which to quarantine.”
“People developed walking groups to stay connected,” says Betsy. “Pickle ball and golf were still going. There were gatherings in driveways, front porch game nights, and cul de sac parties. We just socially distanced.”
They want to stress, however, that they are both sensitive to younger families with children who were struggling with quarantines and remote learning.
“We were just trying to make the best of a situation,” says Betsy. “We are so fortunate to live in the kind of place where neighbors know each other and look out for each other.”
There was one concern when the couple first moved down, but it quickly faded.
Because Ford’s Colony is a gated community, Betsy says that they were slightly nervous.
“Do you remember the TV show Gilligan’s Island?” she asks. “Well, I was afraid everyone living here would be like Thurston Howell and Lovey! But they aren’t.”
The neighborhood is home to some pretty distinguished residents, but Tom says it’s rare to learn who they are because everyone is so unassuming.
“I played pickle ball yesterday,” says Tom. “And I found out that one of the guys I regularly play with is a lawyer who worked with the U.S. Justice Department.”
Betsy tells a similar tale.
“We had signed up to attend a talk for a nature group,” says Betsy. “We knew that our speaker was a nature photographer, but it turns out this guy used to work for National Geographic magazine!”
Tom and Betsy believe that the fortune and fame of some of their neighbors just adds a more interesting layer to living in the community, although it’s never something flaunted.
“We were so ready to dive into everything,” says Betsy. “In fact, the first day here, I was recruited by a neighbor to be an officer in the Newcomers Club.”
Volunteer efforts and just plain fun
No one is tooting their own horn but Ford’s Colony residents log hundreds if not thousands of hours each year, working with scores of volunteer organizations in our area.
Betsy actively volunteers within her community and, before the pandemic, she was a regular volunteer at the JCC Recreation Center. Tom volunteers his time with the Williamsburg Bicycle Co-op, a group that helps repair and build bikes for people who need them.
“We take old broken or discarded bikes and refurbish them,” he says. “Then we give them away or sell them for anywhere between $100-$300, or even $400 for the better bikes. The bikes go to people who need them for transportation to work, or kids who need a bike.”
Through volunteer and charity work, the Co-op has been refurbishing and selling enough bikes to pay the expenses of the shop which is located in the James-York Plaza.
Closer to home, Betsy and Tom are also involved in several clubs, including the Newcomers Club, Trailblazers Club and Theatre Club. In the summer, Betsy also teaches a water aerobics class.
With Earth Day approaching, the two are lending their efforts to an Earth Day event in their neighborhood. “Tom’s going to be a talking tree!” exclaims Betsy.
“We are having a good time here,” says Tom. “This will be our last year with the Newcomers Club though because it’s a three years membership.
“Yes, I suppose we are old-timers now,” says Betsy. “But we sure stay busy all the time!”
Sidebar: About working with realtor John Wolmeldorf
“One of many valuable pieces of advice John provided us was to suggest that I just show up at the clubhouse for a meeting of whatever club happened to be meeting that evening,” says Betsy.
So she did.
The Swim & Racquet Club has a large facility where many of the clubs meet, so Betsy arrived one particular evening to find that the Newcomers Club was meeting.
“Wasn’t that perfect? I asked if they’d mind if I checked things out, and they were great. I got a great overview, and left feeling very comfortable.”
The couple says that an early drawing point that attracted them to John was his extensive reach online via his website and social media.
“He’s everywhere!” Betsy says. “But back then, John participated in a social media site called City Data. I don’t know if it exists anymore but we liked to look at that site quite a bit because we were collecting different information for our spreadsheet – information about metrics and demographics of various cities.”
The Keogans found John’s commentary extremely helpful as they were researching all of the communities that appealed to them.
“Another thing I remember is that John published these little video tours of all kinds of communities,” Betsy says. “He literally shot the footage from his car webcam. I loved that! It was amateur and it was authentic, not slick and canned.”
Betsy and Tom agree that the main attribute, of course, was John’s honesty, his candor, and the fact that he takes time to really get to know his clients.
“Since he got to know us, he knew what we would enjoy and he paired us with it.”
Of course, within Ford’s Colony, there is a delightful variety of home styles. Nothing cookie cutter here! At the end of the day, when it’s time to retreat to the comforts of hearth and home, the Keogans are delighted with their home, their community and they cannot say enough good things about their realtor, John Womeldorf.
“Even after we moved in, John was great about including us in a variety of different activities and giving us the inside scoop,” says Betsy. “Whether it’s an invitation to the opening of a restaurants we may have never learned about, or steering us to great places to ride bikes. John knows we loved to bike, and he bikes with his kids too, so he taught us how to bike like a local. We know all the little secret backways to get into the Colonial Parkway!”
What the locals have to say (excerpted from Williamsburg News & Notes on Facebook):
- “Williamsburg is a great place to retire! There’s a nice mix of young and old here and plenty of opportunities to volunteer and have fun.”
- “We’re from upstate New York and have zero regrets about relocating here! Winters are much more mild and shorter; close proximity to the beach, the mountains & Washington, DC. Home prices are higher than we were used to, but the property taxes are much lower – about 1/3 of what our house was in New York. We love the area!”
- “You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who moved here from up north (or anywhere for that matter) that doesn’t’ love it! We’ve lived many places (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut), and I have NEVER loved living anywhere as much as I love living here! Beautiful and mild weather! Tons to do! A nice mix of kind and caring people. Take a trip to the beach, Charlottesville, or the mountains! I could go on and on!”
- “We live in Fords Colony which is a very large neighborhood. Actually, a series of smaller neighborhoods within a large development. It’s a gated community with lots of amenities. I feel like I wake up everyday on vacation! We have walking trails, two golf courses, numerous picturesque ponds, two pools, tennis and pickleball courts and over 60 clubs and interest groups.”
- “It was great place to raise our children!”
- “We relocated about three years ago. Lived in NY, NJ, MD and now here in Williamsburg. The taxes are much lower. There are a lot of things to do especially along the Colonial Parkway and the various parks in the area if you like the outdoors. Fishing is great. You can catch salt and freshwater fish in the same day. Home prices have gone up a bit over the last few years but are still very reasonable. A $500K house here would have been $1.5M back home in NJ. You can still get a good size amount of land if that is of interest. The Saturday farmers market in Toano and the one in Merchants Square on the weekends has had the best bread and other goodies.”
- “We moved here about 20 years ago and have never regretted our decision. Chose Fords Colony and love the neighborhood.”
- “We retired here almost 5 years ago and have been very happy with this area. The number of fellow retirees make it comfortable for us, yet we also love the many families here and all the activities for kids. You get the best of both worlds. Complete strangers will wave to you when you drive by – this is our way of being friendly. Wave back.”
- “We made several trips before choosing Fords Colony, and that worked out well. And we have friends who moved from Australia who moved here blindly and trusted a realtor to help them choose, and that worked out for them.”
- “Find a community with a strong social fabric! Easy to make friends and get involved. Fords Colony is fabulous.”
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