Sunday, July 3, 2022

Chains across Yorktown’s Main Streets decades-long practice — is it helping traffic, tours?

A sign closes Main Street in Yorktown on Tuesday. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
A sign closes Main Street in Yorktown on Tuesday. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

History is perched upon a bluff rising over the York River, in a row of historic homes overlooking the trees and businesses of Yorktown.

America’s legacy is embraced along Main Street, where revolutionary cannon balls remain stuck in the walls of the Nelson House, while the facade of the Cole Digges House — now home to Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters — remains in its 18th-century glory.

But those traveling through Yorktown’s streets may hit dead-ends, depending on the time of day and season in which they were traveling.

A collaboration between three different agencies shuts down Historic Main Street in Yorktown during the business day from May to November each year.

Dave Bowditch, the owner of Hornsby House Inn at 702 Main St., said he’s seen some cars get confused by the road closures after coming up the hill from Water Street. At the end of the day, when the road reopens to two-way traffic, he’s also noticed pedestrian safety suffers.

“People walking down the street have to be looking over their shoulders when the road is open,” Bowditch said.

Bowditch believes there could be a better way to handle traffic and pedestrian access, such as making the street one-way with a permanent lane for pedestrians.

When the road is open and two-way traffic is flowing, there are no sidewalks for pedestrians to use, Bowditch said.

Bowditch said the issue of traffic along Main Street and the surrounding streets came up consistently after he began talking to the Hornsby House Inn’s neighbors about potentially opening a tavern at 606 Main St.

“Different neighbors had different thoughts about the problem traffic would be,” Bowditch said of opening a new business on the road.

He has since pulled his application to build the tavern — and doesn’t plan to pursue the idea.

Bowditch said he has opened up preliminary discussions with the York County Planning Department about the road, but there’s no official plan in place at this time.

So, why is the road closed?

Road closures along Main Street are nothing new in Yorktown.

Dating back as far as 1996, York County made a request to the Virginia Department of Transportation, asking the agency to allow the county to close the road periodically throughout the busy season from April to October, according to an agreement document provided by VDOT spokeswoman Brittany McBride Nichols.

The days and hours of the closures changed again in 2002, extending the season from May 1 to Nov. 1 each year.

National Park Service rangers with Colonial National Historical Park are tasked with moving the stop signs and chains across the road at the beginning and end of each day, said Steven Williams, deputy superintendent for Colonial National Historical Park.

Other than moving the signs, NPS rangers are otherwise not involved in the road closure agreement.

Williams said the road closures help protect the historical interpreters and rangers who give tours along Main Street. The National Park Service owns several historic sites in Yorktown, including the Nelson House and Cole Digges House.

“Before York got the permit… it was problematic mixing visitors and cars driving up and down through Main Street,” Williams said. “Part of the rangers’ jobs was to be looking out… they were consistently spending more time trying to keep visitors safe on the tours.”

If there are changes, who’s in charge?

If Bowditch and other Yorktown residents’ push for a change on Main Street sparks a potential project, it would require a collaboration between agencies.

McBride Nichols said VDOT maintains the secondary streets such as Main Street, and can coordinate projects with York County. VDOT can take the lead, or York County can request they lead a project independently once the project request is approved.

McBride Nichols said VDOT and York County would also evaluate whether a change or project is needed.

Williams said the National Park Service is willing to be “at the table” if any changes are proposed, as NPS regularly gives historic tours on Main Street and closes the road daily.

Meanwhile, Bowditch believes it’s worth considering whether vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow can be improved on Main Street.

“It’s a special street and it needs special attention,” Bowditch said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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