A Brief History of Toano, Virginia

The area formed by the crossroads of the old stage road between Williamsburg and New Kent (Present day Richmond Road) and Old Forge Road has a long history as a center of trade. Beginning as early as the 1760’s, John Lewis operated an ordinary at the intersection of these roads, and he and David Lewis operated a mercantile business nearby. The ordinary, an inn where meals were served to wayfarers, was later sold to Benjamin Fox. After the ordinary burned during the American Revolution in 1780, the crossroads became known as Burnt Ordinary, a name that endured until approximately 1881.

It was at this time the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway expanded along the peninsula, it laid tracks through the center of town. The crew that laid the tracks had been working on the Union & Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada mountains before coming to this area. They noticed, from Windsor Shades to Burnt Ordinary that the land ran uphill. The word “toano” is a Paiute Indian word meaning “high ground” and thus, the railroad crew renamed the village Toano.

Taking advantage of new opportunities the railroad brought to the area, a group of local visionaries came together and created a unique community and economic powerhouse. Toano became the largest shipping point for local crops, especially potatoes, between Newport News and Richmond. Subsequently, Toano became the commercial center for Upper James City County surpassing pre-Rockefeller Williamsburg in truck farming, industry, education, politics, banking, and mercantile businesses . Toano was known as a “Village of Stores”.

In the 1960’s as the area became more populated and traffic increased, Richmond Road (Route 60) was widened from 2 to 4 lanes. This resulted in the demolition of many historic buildings in the village, particularly on the south side of Richmond Road (Route 60). Sadly, Toano lost much of its visual and historic character and became another small town in decline. However, the potential for revitalization is promising and there is a new movement afoot to rebuild!