Mr Williamsburg’s guide to Local Living
All the stats in the world can’t tell you what it’s really like to live in a neighborhood. And it can be nerve-wracking to have no idea, especially if you’re moving here or thinking of moving from out-of-town.
What are the neighbors like? Do they keep to themselves or do they socialize with other neighbors? How do you connect with the community? What can you walk to? Where’s the best shopping, restaurants, recreation? What drew other people here –and do they like it? For the inside scoop on essentials like these, Mr. Williamsburg is talking to the people who know: the people who live there.
The Perfect Pace: Life in New Town
“I actually thought it would be just Neil and I coming here and having a nice lifestyle, and going about our own lives in our own ways,” says Pat, a company executive and life coach. “I didn’t expect the feeling of connectedness, the deep sense of community pride and involvement, that we feel here. In terms of familiarity and opportunities to meet people and do meaningful work together in groups—I just didn’t expect it.”
“The culture in New Town is that every single person you see on the street, without fail, speaks to you, asks how you’re doing, waves from their car,” she adds. “It’s so unusual for a Chicago girl like me to experience something like that. I think there’s something about the culture, maybe relative to the climate or the small-town atmosphere, where people just find each other here.”
Choosing Williamsburg. Pat and Neil left their long-time home in Oberlin, Ohio after Neil retired from his job as a retirement community administrator in 2016. Since Pat’s job allowed her to work from home, they were not limited in where they could retire, and spent a year winnowing down their options.
Being within a two-hour radius of their daughter, Sarah, and her family—including two young grandchildren–who were then living in Waldorf, Maryland, was one criterion. A warmer climate, away from Ohio’s gray days and average snowfall of 80 inches, was another. Being in a college town like Oberlin was also a consideration, as were lifestyle factors such as walkability.
The couple considered the Washington, D.C. area but were put off by its fast pace and congestion. They also considered North and South Carolina, but the distance from their daughter was a negative.
Williamsburg – approximately within the two-hour radius, with temperate climate and the draw of William & Mary, stood out. And, for Pat, the fact that Williamsburg felt familiar to her was a bonus. “I came here as a kid, as an adult, and as a parent,” she notes.
“I think, when looking back at our decision, the key word is pace,” Neil sums up. “What we wanted was the pace that you have in a small community like Williamsburg.”
Choosing New Town. Pat and Neil considered several Williamsburg neighborhoods, including 55+ communities, but were attracted to New Town. “One thing about New Town that was so attractive is it isn’t just a bunch of people 55 and older but very mixed, very old and very young and everyone in between,” says Pat. They also didn’t want a community that was car dependent, so the walkability of New Town, where residences are mixed in with shops, grocery stores, a movie theatre, and businesses, was enticing, as was its pool and huge selection of community activities.
The couple initially considered a New Town condo, but were ultimately drawn to the New Town neighborhood of Charlotte Park and its Federal Towns community.
“We liked the idea of a townhouse with a first-floor master, and liked that the townhomes are individualized and have a Colonial look,” says Pat, noting their townhome has 16 windows and 10-foot ceilings on the main floor. “We didn’t want a single-family home because we wanted to downsize significantly, and we didn’t want to worry about the house if we traveled. The townhouse has mostly the “lock and leave” convenience of a condo, but we also get a separate two-car garage, a big front porch, and a back yard.”
“There’s also something about the comfort of a townhouse, where you have neighbors,” she adds. “We’re all very friendly with our neighbors, we look out for one another, and Neil likes to sit on the front porch and read. It just felt like a very simple lifestyle to have a townhouse.”
The New Town Lifestyle. “We walk everywhere,” Pat says, noting there are both sidewalks and wooded running/walking/biking paths throughout the community. “It’s not just that we can walk on sidewalks around the block; it’s that we walk to somewhere. There are so many destinations in New Town that you can walk to…the bank, the doctor, the post office, three grocery stores. We’re the people with the little wire cart on wheels that we walk to Trader Joe’s to do our shopping.”
The couple also walk to the New Town community pool, where they take aquatic Zumba classes during summers and Neil jogs and rides his bike on the wooded trails. In fact, after the couple bought a new car when they first moved to New Town, it sat in the garage for several months. “When we did finally go out to use it, it didn’t start. We forgot there was even a car in the garage,” Pat notes, laughing. “The point is, we just didn’t need our car.”
When the couple ventures outside New Town, they often take the trolley that connects New Town to Colonial Williamsburg and other points. In fact, they and the trolley driver know each other by name, something that Neil, who grew up in a small town, is accustomed to, but Pat still finds a pleasant surprise.
“It’s funny how Williamsburg has a small-town feel even though it’s spread out,” Pat remarks. “We just went to the Williamsburg Christmas parade, and I saw several people I knew by first name who are in the community.”
Finding New Town and Williamsburg Rich with Activities. Although the couple are flexitarians, and often cook at home, they do enjoy outings to New Town restaurants, all of which are within walking distance of their home. “There are so many different types, from Armenian to Vietnamese. We really enjoy First Watch; we’re getting to know the waitresses on a first-name basis already,” Neil points out.
There are many organized activities at New Town, as well as informal groups organized by neighbors. “I go out with women I met here for breakfast or lunch on a regular basis,” Pat says. “And there’s a Ladies’ Night Out that a neighbor formed over a year ago. We have Christmas parties; we had a hurricane party. I think having the walkability– where we see neighbors all the time—and the climate that allows people to be out and about on the streets, encourages meeting people.”
Neil takes classes through the Christopher Wren Association for Lifelong Learning, which is sponsored by William & Mary. He also volunteers as a tax preparer for AARP.
Have they made any surprising discoveries? “We didn’t realize that both Jamestown and Yorktown have not only the locally run venues but also portions that are operated by the National Parks, which have a different focus.,” Neil says. “We were also surprised at how many fabulous historic plantations, where many presidential families lived there are here. I just learned last week that President Washington came here when the House of Burgesses was meeting in Williamsburg. Since Martha Custis actually had land here, he became a landowner here. That’s why we can legitimately say that President Washington lived here.”
“There are so many things here that are free or cheap,” Pat adds. “There’s a Good Neighbors pass for Williamsburg residents that costs $10 a year and gets you into Colonial Williamsburg for free. Unlimited times. There are so many historical things to learn about and places to visit that Williamsburg feels like a well-kept secret.”
Impressed with New Town, the Kids and Grandkids Also Move There. The Brights’ daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Ariel, were so impressed with their parents’ experiences in New Town that they recently moved there, too. That means the loved ones Pat and Neil wanted to have within 2 hours are now within 2 minutes, building a single-family New Town home just three blocks from their parents.
“When we first had grandchildren, I had this image that I’d hear the pitter-patter of little feet come down the street and there’d be a knock on Nana’s door, and a little voice saying, ‘Hello, Nana. I wanted to come visit you.” When I told my daughter about that, she said, ‘’Oh, no! Not that close!’ But then this happens; I was shocked! My image of every grandparent’s dream is to be with your family like this.”
Sarah and Ariel, who is retired from the Navy, became intrigued with New Town after spending a week at Pat and Neil’s home while the Brights were visiting Sarah’s brother in Houston. They used the pool, walked to shops, and went to Colonial Williamsburg. They loved it all. But before making any decision, even before they contacted their realtor, John “Mr. Williamsburg” Womeldorf, Sarah and Ariel scheduled appointments with the principals of local schools.
Great Schools. “They had done research and knew the schools were highly rated academically,” Pat says, noting both children, now ages 4 and 8, had been in private schools in Maryland. “Each of the schools gave Sarah – and one school also her son–several hours to shadow students, meet teachers, and spend time with the principal.”
“Sarah is very positive about the academics and discipline. Our grandson is stimulated and challenged,” Pat says. “We’ve personally been to his elementary school, DJ Montague, because anyone can have lunch in the cafeteria with the kids. So, as grandparents, we have met teachers and the cafeteria staff.”
Getting Help from Mr. Williamsburg. Pat praises the personalized service of John Womeldorf, who has helped both her and Sarah find their New Town homes. “John provides individualized attention to his clients through his laid back and easy-going manner. He has incredible patience and knows that sometimes choosing a house or a neighborhood and getting the “right fit” may take clients a while. He has an amazing repository of facts and his memory is incredible,” Pat adds. “He communicates very quickly and he’s so well connected in the community.”
Pat and Neil recount many examples of John going “above and beyond.” “We had a bunch of moving boxes and I asked John how to recycle them. He called me back and told me he had three people who could come and pick them up.” Neil notes that John solved a problem with their floors just as their walk- through was imminent, and that he helped Sarah find a New Town rental while her home is being built.
The couple found John on the Internet. “What better than to get someone named ‘Mr. Williamsburg’ to help you get a house in Williamsburg?” Neil laughs. “And then we found out his office was in New Town, the community we wanted to live in.”
Nothing But Positives. Two years in, the Bright’s say they’ve found zero negatives about their move to Williamsburg.
“Is there a ‘con’?” They laughed. “No! We feel like we’re on vacation but we live here!”
Read more about New Town here
This post was authored by local resident and REALTOR, John Womeldorf. John is known around town as Mr. Williamsburg, for both his extensive knowledge of the Williamsburg/ Hampton Roads/ Richmond VA area and his expertise helping buyers and sellers in the local real estate market. If you are a homeowner searching for someone innovative to sell your home I would love to share my thoughts on marketing.
Additionally, I have helped hundreds of folks find their dream home/ community and would love to help you find yours in Williamsburg, Yorktown, New Kent, VA Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Isle of Wight Poquoson as well as Richmond. If you want help –Fill out this form and I will get back to you with suggestions.
If you are researching neighborhoods you can read about other neighborhoods in the area here