Thursday, May 19, 2022

Why Do We Call It… Toano?

James City County plans to start on two projects to improve drainage and restore streams in Toano. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
The history of Toano stretches back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. Here is how it came to be called Toano. (WYDaily Archive/Alexa Doiron)

TOANO — With Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown dominating the historical and tourism landscapes, it become too easy to overlook nearby hamlets that have a fascinating historic pedigree all their own.

Take for instance, Toano, or, if you were around in the 1780s, you might have known the area as Burnt Ordinary.

According to the Toano Historical Society, this unincorporated section of James City County first started taking shape in the early 1760s. A man named John Lewis opened up an inn and tavern, known in that era as an “ordinary,” at the intersection of what is now Richmond Road and Old Forge Road.

The establishment was eventually sold to a Benjamin Fox and business carried on until the ordinary was burned to the ground during the American Revolution in 1780. For the next century the crossroads became known as Burnt Ordinary.

Fast forward to 1881. The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) started laying down railroad track that would link Richmond to Newport News. The crews that were laying the track previously worked on the Union & Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Seeing that the topography between Windsor Shades near New Kent and Burnt Ordinary trended uphill, they began referring to it as Toano which is a Paiute Tribe word for “higher ground.”

Over the next several decades, Toano grew into a vital hub for the shipment of local crops between Newport News and Richmond. As a result, the little town was known as a “Village of Stores” as businesses of all kinds began to spring up along Richmond Road.

Since the 1960s, Richmond Road was expanded from two lanes to four. As a result, a lot of the historic buildings were demolished.

Despite changes to the scenery, Toano is still home to a vibrant local scene and a host of small businesses and family owned farms. For more information on the Toano History as well as things to do, check out the Toano Historical Society and the James City County websites.

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