Ernest Wallace Hillside Cafe (also known as Wallace and Cook's Beer Garden), Williamsburg, Va., September 1953. Left to right: Mr. Goodman, Charles Wallace, Elsie Wallace, Earnest Wallace, Blanche Taylor, Helen Wynn, and Carlton Jackson. Photo by Albert W. Durant.


                In the mid-twentieth century, African Americans operated a wide range of businesses in Williamsburg, including groceries, restaurants, night clubs, medical clinics, barber and beauty shops, dry cleaning establishments, and mortuaries.

                During the age of “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, African American visitors to Colonial Williamsburg found it very difficult to locate places to eat and socialize.[1] Establishments such as the Wallace and Cook’s Hillside Café and Beer Garden, located off of Nicholson Street on the former Raleigh Lane, provided a venue for both local African American residents and African American tourists to gather for meals and night life. Operating as a lunch counter during the day, the restaurant converted into a tavern in the evening.




West End Valet Dry Cleaning Shop, Prince George St., Williamsburg, Va., circa 1950s. Owner Charles Gary with Inez Churchill in foreground, James Cumber in background. Photo by Albert W. Durant.


              The Triangle Block, a group of buildings housing a number of African American businesses, was bounded by Scotland Street, Prince George Street, and Armistead Street. Durant photographed the interiors of Clarence Webb’s grocery store and Charles Gary’s West End Valet Dry Cleaning Shop.  According to local resident Fred Frechette, Mr. Gary “won all the valet business from both the Inn and Lodge. At the height of his success, he had ten employees and built himself a beautiful home in James City County.”[2]



Interior of Clarence Webb's Grocery, located at Prince George Street in Williamsburg, Va., circa late 1940s-1950s. Photo by Albert W. Durant.


Dr. Frederick Peagler working on a patient, Carrie Norcum, at a dental clinic at Bruton Heights School, circa 1950s. Photo by Albert W. Durant.


              Bruton Heights School served a dual purpose as an educational and community center for local African Americans (see Education section). A medical clinic inside its doors provided much needed dental services. Local dentist Dr. Frederick Peagler offered care to patients who visited the Bruton Heights facility.


A beautician demonstrating finger waving at Bertie’s Beauty Salon and School, Lightfoot, Va., circa 1950s. Photo by Albert W. Durant.


              Beauty shops in the Williamsburg area gave African American women an opportunity to further their entrepreneurial spirit. Bertie’s Beauty Salon and School in Lightfoot, Virginia, owned by Bertie Herndon, supplied a wide range of hair styling services and products and trained beauticians. Ms. Herndon also held meetings of the local Beautician’s Association at her salon (see Local Organizations section).

               The era of segregation forced Williamsburg’s African American community to develop an array of businesses to meet their social, health, and hygiene needs. Enterprising residents rose to the challenge and became respected for their important contributions to various professions in the area.



Advertisement for Bertie's Beauty Salon and School, 1956. From Souvenir Program for Dedication Services and 180th Anniversary of First Baptist Church, Williamsburg, Va. (October 1956), p. 29. Reproduced with permission of Ms. Opelene L. Davis, First Baptist Church.

[1] Rex M. Ellis, “The African-American Community in Williamsburg (1947-1998),” in Williamsburg, Virginia: A City Before the State, 1699-1999, ed. Robert P. Maccubbin (Williamsburg, Virginia: City of Williamsburg, 2000), 236, 238-39.

[2] Fred Frechette, Williamsburg: My Town (Richmond, Va.: Dietz Press, 2006), 61.