You can’t escape the past, not that anyone is trying to around here. Drive through the exclusive Kingsmill community in Williamsburg and you’ll cross countless streets named after early colonists. On the way to Carter’s Grove, the 472-acre plantation where the Wolstenholme Towne settlement once stood, you’ll pass a new development called Pocahontas Square.
There are historic landmarks all over the area. Not for nothing is the Jamestown-Williamsburg-Yorktown area known as the Historic Triangle.
But the present is ever-present here, too: Signs of modern society are visible everywhere, including from the James River itself.
From Black Point, on the eastern tip of Jamestown Island, you can gaze across the winding river at Mach Tower, a gravity-drop ride that soars 240 feet into the sky at Busch Gardens. The domes at the Surry Power Station are visible from the Colonial Parkway, the scenic National Park Service road that connects Jamestown with Yorktown via Williamsburg.
Military helicopters on training missions buzz overhead day and night. From the million-dollar riverfront homes at Kingsmill, on clear a day, you can make out the mothballed James River Reserve Fleet near Newport News.
“From a purist’s point of view, we would love to have the whole vista be pristine, like what they’ve done at [Thomas Jefferson’s] Monticello” said Colin Campbell, president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “But you have to live with what’s done. And transmission lines across the river would be considerably more intrusive.”
An overhead power line would industrialize a hallowed part of the country’s cultural heritage, he said. And it would jeopardize Colonial Williamsburg’s effort to have the Historic Triangle recognized as a World Heritage site by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a designation that often comes with a bonanza of tourists and tourist dollars.
As it happens, Colonial Williamsburg has an important, if conflicted, ally at the utility. Thomas F. Farrell II, chief executive of Dominion Virginia’s parent company, Dominion Resources, is also chairman of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s board of trustees. But Farrell has recused himself on the issue, according to Dominion and Colonial Williamsburg representatives, and he declined to be interviewed for this article.
As a corporate citizen, Dominion has long funded preservation projects and programs around the Historic Triangle.
During the Jamestown quadrennial in 2007, the company even produced an advertisement noting its commitment of more than $1 million to help preserve historic Jamestown. The ad featured an image of a tall ship sailing up the James River. “With this project and many others like it,” the copy read, “Dominion is protecting our natural and historic resources for generations to come.”