Williams, Arizona may not be a huge metropolis (the estimated population is less than 3,200 people), but as Mayor John W. Moore likes to say, it’s a small town with a big heart, and a big history.
Named for famed trapper and Santa Fe trail scout William “Bill” Williams, the community has been at various times, a center for raising cattle and sheep; a draw for gold prospectors and land speculators; and, with the arrival of the railroad in 1882, a shipping center for nearby ranching and lumber industries.
Throughout its history, the city’s best asset been a big hole in the ground about 55 miles north.
Being the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” had always been a significant part of the city’s economic profile, particularly after the Santa Fe Railway completed a branch line from Williams to Grand Canyon Village in 1901.
In the Roaring 20’s, a new form of transportation took center stage as Route 66 drew an ever-increasing number of visitors to Williams via automobile. The popularity of vehicular travel ultimately caused the railway line to shut down in 1968.
Ironically, less than 20 years later, it was Route 66 that was facing obsolescence.
Williams was the last community to have its section of Route 66 bypassed by Interstate 40. While its stretch of the Mother Road did suffer when the highway was completed in 1984, Williams was not as hard hit as other Route 66 communities because of its close proximity to the Grand Canyon.
Tourism was bolstered again when the Grand Canyon Railway restored the rail line and re-launched operations in 1989.
Now Williams is further capitalizing on the tourism sector by promoting its historic downtown and its well-preserved portion of Route 66, providing high quality lodging and eatery options, and offering additional attractions, like the Bearizona animal park.
Williams has shown that it, like much of Northern Arizona, has successfully evolved to meet the economic opportunities of the times.
You can see a video about Williams here.