Williams, Michigan: Kalamazoo County Ghost Town
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Williams post mark

 

This is the story of a small community called Williams in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.

It all started when the Kalamazoo & South Haven Railroad came through.

 

Goliath steam engine

The "Goliath" was the first steam engine to reach South Haven on the new Kalamazoo & South Haven line. The year was 1871. The railroad right-of-way was soon parceled out and leased to many enterprising new businesses, mainly lumber-related at first since trees were plentiful in those days. Several businesses appeared in Alamo Township (Kalamazoo County) where 2nd Street crossed the tracks. This area was to become known as Williams or Williams Crossing, since Chester Williams, a New York native who came to Michigan in 1854, sold a strip of his farm property to the railroad.

 

 

Williams house

Williams house today

Chester had this house built around the time that the railroad came through. It still stands today.

 

 

Plat map

This 1890 Kalamazoo County plat map shows Williams with several structures clustered around the tracks.

 

 

1908 RR map

This 1908 railroad map shows the location of Williams between Alamo and Mentha.

 

 

General store  General store with customers

A general store was located at the SE corner (date unknown).

 

 

Williams depot

This postcard looking west from the store is postmarked 1908. It shows the railroad depot (the first one, which was larger, apparently burned). The house marked with the "X" was a boarding house.

The biggest building on the left was part of the Shields brickmaking company, one of several in the area because clay was so plentiful.

The owner of the brickmaking company, Patrick Shields, built this (below) impressive twenty room house out of his bricks. The Shields family hosted Friday night dances on the third floor. It still stands today.

Shields house

Shields house today

 

 

Williams had their own baseball team.

Williams baseball team of 1910

This is how the Williams team looked in 1910.

 

 

Williams schoolhouse

The Williams school, located just north of Williams, as it looked in the late 1970ís. It is currently occupied as a home.

 

At its peak in 1901, Williams was listed as having 125 residents. In the ensuing years, several factors contributed to the downfall of Williams. The biggest factor was that lumber became scarce in the area. The sawmill was dismantled and moved up north to Whitehall and the companies which relied on the readily available wood moved on as well.

There is little evidence today that Williams ever existed, besides some of the old houses and the school. The old railroad bed has been converted to a biking/hiking trail, the Kal-Haven Trail. Even local historians arenít aware of the presence of a sizeable community at the crossing. This is my attempt to bring Williams "back to life". You may ask why I bothered looking up this long-forgotten town.

 

I am Chester Williamsís Great Great Grandson. My Great Grandma and my Grandma were born on the Williams farm.

Iíve always been interested in genealogy, history, railroads and archaeology. Williams fits them all.

 

If you have any information/anecdotes/photos/maps of Williams, please contact me at williamsmichigan @ earthlink.net

or you can write to me at 5336 Ivanrest SW, Grandville, MI 49418.

 

I owe a big thank you to the sources for this information: Florence Finkey, Dorothy Ragan, the Marcinek family, Sally Drake, Dave Hager, Sue Hadapp, the Archives at WMU, the Alamo Museum and the Kalamazoo Library...but mostly to my family.

 




For more photos of Williams and its residents click here


This website was last updated on June 4, 2002.