NCPA February 12, 2024

William & MaryThe College of William and Mary in the old colonial capital city Williamsburg, Va., was chartered in the name of King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693, and it’s the second-oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. (and the ninth oldest in the Anglophone world). Today in 1689, just four years earlier, William and Mary ascended the throne as co-rulers, a unique arrangement that has not been repeated since, at least in England. Immortalized by Steely Dan in the 1973 song “My Old School,” and featured in 10 films and television shows, William and Mary (the college) offers a unique campus plan centered on its original academic building, which many people believe was designed by the English architect Sir Christopher Wren. From 1699 to 1780, while Williamsburg served as the colonial capital, campus buildings were shared by students and lawmakers, and its graduate rolls included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Tyler, and — remotely — George Washington, who corresponded with the college to receive a surveyor’s license. Today, the Wren Building remains the oldest academic building in the country, but with the important caveat that it has been restored and renovated several times in its history. It was most notably revamped by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., during his 1920s campaign to “restore” (often imaginatively) the whole of Colonial Williamsburg, which is, today, a living history museum that represents both sincere archaeological efforts to uncover its history and ersatz mythologies of an idealized colonial past. Pictured: the seal of William and Mary.