HISTORY OF WILLIAMS

Northern Arizona, a land of pine-covered hills and volcanic mountains, has been home to many Native American tribes for over a thousand years. Early Spanish explorers searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola, around 1540, discovered the Grand Canyon and these local tribes. The Hopi pueblos to the north of Williams became part of the Mission system of the Spanish during their quest to bring Christianity to the Southwest. In the early 1800's the American fur trade extended into Arizona by trappers known as "Mountain Men". One of the most experienced of these early visitors was William Sherley Williams. "Old Bill" trapped all over the western states but enjoyed retreating to this area that was later named after him. Discovery of gold in New Mexico in 1928 caused the exploration of the mountainous areas of Arizona.

Surrounding Bill Williams Mountain are valleys and meadows that attracted sheep and cattle ranchers after the Civil War. Land speculators, anticipating construction of a new transcontinental railroad, made claim to what are now the various neighborhoods of Williams. In 1881 the first post office was established. The railroad, best known as the Sante Fe Line, arrived on September 1, 1882 and Williams quickly became a center for the railroad, ranching and lumber industries. Trips to the Grand Canyon by buckboard and stagecoach at this time, was the start of the tourism industry that has flourished to this day.

Williams had a reputation as a rough and rowdy frontier town by the turn of the century. Its saloons, brothels, opium dens and gambling houses catered to the cowboy, logger, Chinese laborer and railroad worker seeking entertainment. Many of these businesses of vice and pleasure were restricted by ordinance to Railroad Avenue's 'Saloon Row'.

The Saginaw Lumber Company opened a large sawmill in 1893 and harvested millions of board feet of lumber a year for almost 50 years, from the newly established Grand Canyon Forest Reserve surrounding Williams. The Reserve became the Kaibab National Forest in 1934 and has shifted the use of the forest towards recreation and Eco-tourism in recent years.

In 1901, a great fire swept though Williams burning 36 business buildings, 2 hotels and 10 homes in less than an hour. Within a week the town was incorporated and a fire district was formed. Completed in September of 1901, the 60-mile Sante Fe Railway spur line to the Grand Canyon established Williams as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon"® and host to visitors from around the world.

Competition from the automobile shut down rail service to the Canyon for about 20 years but the line was reinaugurated in September of 1989. The Grand Canyon Railway now carries almost 200,000 visitors a year to the South Rim.

In 1926, US Highway 66 was established through Williams and served the automobile-touring public as part of the "Main Street of America". Williams became the last "Route 66" town to be by-passed by Interstate 40 in 1984, the same year the downtown business district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elephant RR Museum Route 66