Williamston Then-and-Now Photos, 1800s-2000s
Williamston was first settled in 1834 by Hiram & Joseph Putnam as they slashed their way through the woods between Stockbridge and the Red Cedar River. The trail they cut through is now known as Williamston Road.
The Putnams, calling this new community “Cedar,” began farming on land that is now used as the Brookshire golf course. After just one year, they had enough and moved to Jackson, selling their land to the Williams brothers. The brothers began building the town with a sawmill in 1840 and a grist mill in 1842. They platted the town in 1845 and it became an official village on April 5, 1871, the same year it acquired its own railroad depot along the Pere Marquette line from Detroit to Grand Rapids.
The town became a popular stop for travelers with plenty of places to eat, sleep, see a show, and booze it up. Aside from train travelers, stagecoaches and travelers-by-horse arrived via the Grand River Trail – now Grand River Avenue – as they made their way from Detroit to Lansing. With a depot and constant travelers, Williamston (for a while called Williamstown) opened more establishments to accommodate the tourists.
According to the City of Williamston website, the town was “the undisputed commercial and social hub of the farming and early industrial society in Eastern Ingham County”.
The population began to dwindle until 1920, as the younger generation desired to move to Lansing for 'big city' life. After World War 2, town officials thought if they tore down some of their old buildings and built updated, modern ones, it would have more of a 'big city' atmosphere and more residents would stay. However, lack of money squelched that idea and thankfully, the old buildings were saved from demolition.
That's why it's a treat to visit Williamston in the 2000s...many great old original buildings are lined up downtown along Grand River Avenue. Pay a visit sometime – if you already haven't – and see what I mean.
By the way, just to reiterate: the land that was to become Williamston was settled in 1834, 187 years ago.....but the town was incorporated in 1871.....and that means that in 2021 Williamston will be celebrating it's 150th year of being an official incorporated village! Big doin's are underway as you read this! (In 2024 it will be 190 years since the original settling.)
Now take a look at the gallery below for some old photos of Williamston, going back over 100 years!
City of Williamston