formerly the Kimball Theatre
428 West Duke of Gloucester Street
N.B. This article was updated and edited 17 February 2019.
Williamsburg is more reconstruction than restoration. The passage of time had taken its toll on the city when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and W. A. R. Goodwin began their project to return part of the town to what it had been in the mid-18th century. Some buildings were long gone and had to be reconstructed, while others had modern additions that needed removal. Plus, there was a need to provide accommodations and conveniences that modern visitors would expect.
Rockefeller envisioned Merchant’s Square as providing modern shopping and entertainment conveniences while still maintaining a colonial atmosphere. Among the entertainment options was the Williamsburg Theatre which offered live performances and films in a graceful and air-conditioned Georgian structure.
The theatre opened in January of 1933, with a performance of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy, The Recruiting Officer. According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, this play was the first play performed in British North America when it was produced in Williamsburg. Interestingly, this play was the first play performed in the haunted Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina, which is also a reconstruction for that matter. The Williamsburg Theatre was restored in 2000 and named for Bill and Gretchen Kimball, who sponsored the restoration.
As of 2017, the College of William & Mary has signed a lease to the Kimball as a production space for its Department of Theatre & Dance.
As one might expect, not all the spirits in Colonial Williamsburg are from the 18th century. As Virginia was at the heart of much of the fighting during the Civil War, that conflict has left a spiritual impression on the area. Legend holds that the spirit within the Kimball is a Union soldier.
The land now occupied by the Kimball Theatre was once the home of the Ware family. During the Civil War, the women of the family, as many did during the war, took in and nursed wounded soldiers. They took in a young Confederate soldier who had been wounded in the Battle of Williamsburg, though their care was in vain. The soldier passed away and the ladies took his body to the parlor to await removal.
After Union soldiers captured the town, they went house to house in search of Confederates hiding among the civilians. Upon reaching the Ware House, one soldier was shown to the parlor and the sheet covering the young soldier’s body pulled back. The young Union soldier was horrified to see the body of his own brother who with his different political biases had joined the Confederate army. Sadly, the young Union soldier was not long for this earth and was killed not long afterwards.
A blue-clad spirit, possibly that of the Union soldier, has been seen within the theatre. He appears to be frantically searching for something among the backstage rooms and then suddenly disappears.
Other, colonial spirits may be found in my “Haunts of Williamsburg” entry.
- Behrend, Jackie Eileen. The Hauntings of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1998.
- Chappell, Edward, Mary Harding Sadler and Llewellyn Jewell Hensley. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Merchants Square and Resort Historic District. 28 February 2006.
- Colonial Williamsburg. “Kimball Theatre.” Accessed 6 April 2013.