Neighborhood Story: Centerville

April 11, 2011

By: Saquoia Freeman

Photo taken by: Saquoia Freeman

WILLIAMSBURG,Va. – Freedom Park, a place where families from all over come to visit. Just like Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and Jamestown Settlement, Freedom Park is a tourist attraction.   A serene county park in Williamsburg, Virginia with two miles of hiking trails and 15 miles of mountain bike trails. However, what visitors do not know is that Freedom Park has a strong connection to a certain neighborhood in Williamsburg known for drugs and crime, Centerville.

“Freedom Park is basically in the Centerville neighborhood”, said Quinton Brown, president of the Centerville Neighborhood Association, “there’s a lot of history behind it for this neighborhood.

Click play to listen to an interview with Quinton Brown  

Quinton Brown has been the president of the Centerville Neighborhood Association for four years and has lived in Centerville since 1972. Brown has seen the struggles and the changes of Centerville. He has also personally dealt with the crime in the neighborhood.

“There was a lot of shooting. I had police come here one time when they were out there shooting and they shot through my house”, said Brown.

With the neighborhood being unsafe, the presence of Freedom Park makes things different.

“There’s a lot of presence by the law enforcement because they use Freedom Park a lot for exercise and bike riding”, said Centerville resident Diana Wade.

With the police patrolling the area, things are drastically changing. Freedom Park, also known as the Free Black Community at Centerville, brings change to Centerville. For some, it is good change and for others it is bad change. According to former Centerville resident, Deborah Merritt-Ham, there are some who do not like Freedom Park at all.

“For what it represents some people may or may not like it because it still is a tie in to Colonial Williamsburg and the spin-off of the slavery”, said Merritt-Ham.

Merritt-Ham however, likes the fact that Freedom Park is in the Centerville neighborhood.

“Freedom Park is definitely an asset to the county as well as to the neighborhood”, said Merritt-Ham.

Deborah Merritt-Ham has lived in Centerville since 1972 and feels positive about Freedom Park. Another resident of the Centerville neighborhood, Ann Taylor, feels the same way.

 

“Freedom Park is a good thing for Centerville because it gives you something to look forward to”, said Taylor.

Sixty-eight year old Taylor has lived in this neighborhood her whole life. Her family owned some of the land in Centerville and where Freedom Park is located. She has also seen all of the changes.

“We realized we were getting modernized when the drugs came into the community”, said Taylor.

When it becomes a state park, these changes will be definite benefits.

“If it becomes a national park it would definitely have to change. I would see some revitalization coming in there between the federal government to make that area indicative to what its about”, said Merritt-Ham.

Click play to listen to an interview with Deborah Merritt-Ham

Widening of the roads, traffic lights, beautification of the neighborhood, police patrol and the diminishing of drugs are benefits for Centerville. Along with the help of the community and the park’s presence things are getting better.

“It is 80 percent better than what it has been”, said Brown.

Quinton Brown has implemented great ideas to improve Centerville. March 26, April 2 and April 9 are clean-up days in Centerville.


View Centerville Neighborhood and Freedom Park in a larger map

“What we do is we go out and clean the side of our streets, our ditches and some of our neighbors homes that need cleaning. And some of the sites were unfortunately used for dump-sites. They throw it off back in the wooded areas so we go back there and clean it up”, said Brown.

With the yearly $500 beautification grant and the clean-up days, Brown is able to make the neighborhood look better, not just for the residents but also for Freedom Park. With a nicer appearance, Freedom Park will be able to attract more visitors. Merritt-Ham also feels that physical changes will make the neighborhood better.

“Usually it’s a clean up. Some homes are not quite up to par. It’s not like [visitors] can turn left and not see these areas”, said Merritt-Ham.

It is not just the neighborhood going through the physical changes; the people are too. The chairman of the James City County Historical Commission, Lafayette Jones, Jr., helped with the planning of Freedom Park. Jones is not only connected to the park professionally but personally. In his first book, “My Great, Great Grandfather’s Journey”, he writes about his family and their life in this free Black community. He too feels that Freedom Park is a benefit to Centerville.

“Anytime a group of people learn about their roots or where they come from and if you have a solid foundation, it can only help in modifying behavior”, said Jones.

Colonial Williamsburg is a 15 minute drive from Centerville, but to have a historical park in your community makes things different.

There are more changes to come for the Centerville neighborhood. Positive changes.

For more information, check out these links:

Williamsburg History: Freedom Park Settlement 

Freedom Park Historical Commission

James City County History Williamsburg Freedom Park Mountain Bike Trail

New Zion Baptist Church Williamsburg Native

City of Williamsburg Police Department James City County Police Department Crime Analysis

Community Action Agency