Williams is said to be named after the Williams River which flows nearby but more than likely, the name honors King William IV, who reigned in the United Kingdom from June 1830 until June 1837. The river was discovered by Captain Thomas Bannister in 1831 while leading the first overland expedition from the Swan River Colony to King George Sound (now Albany), and was first shown on an 1833 map.
The first claims on land in the area occurred in 1832, in 1835 a party led by Governor James Stirling and John Septimus Roe surveyed a route joining King George Sound with York via Williams to encourage inland settlement. No settlement occurred until after Lieutenant Henry Bunbury explored the region in 1836.
After the building of Albany Highway by convicts in the 1850s, Williams became an important stopover point for passengers and changing of horses and became the main centre in the district. The Williams Hotel was erected in 1871, and a Road Board (predecessor to the current Shire Council) first convened in 1877.
In early 1898 the population of the town was 55, 30 males and 25 females. Now, around 1,000 people live in the shire with some 400 or so living in the town. Later the same year the local Agricultural Hall was opened by Frederick Piesse, it was built at a cost of £250 granted by Parliament.
The original town had been built on the Albany side of the river, but was subject to increasing floods due to the clearing of the land for intensive farming, therefore the town was relocated to the Perth side of the bridge. The town site was surveyed in 1905 and most of the buildings in the present town site were constructed after that time.
Today the town is a centre for the wool, cattle and coarse grains industry, and serves as a stopping point on the Albany Highway. A heritage trail takes visitors past some of Williams’s historic buildings and nearby wildflower stands and dryandra forests are also attractions. One unusual feature is the Jesse Martin museum, a historic village and memorabilia collection constructed by a local farmer on his own property from old shops and post offices on the verge of being demolished in country towns, as well as barns full of old cars and farm machinery.
Places to see
•Visit the Jesse Martin Museum. This unique collection of memorabilia from the Williams district (and others) has been compiled by passionate local farmer, Jesse Martin. The project began in 1976, with the building of a replica inn, complete with original fittings, and has grown to encompass a general store and other replica buildings as well as farm machinery. Located on the family farm, this private collection is available for viewing by appointment. A donation to Cancer Research is asked as entry fee.
•Follow the Williams Heritage Trail. Developed by the Williams Historical Society, Williams District High School and Williams Shire Council, the trail explores early settlement areas. It has two sections: a 1km walk around the townsite and a 35km scenic drive to Quindanning.
•Check out the Williams Woolshed. This innovative, interactive and interpretive tourism complex represents ‘a wool story’. The Williams Woolshed showcases sheep shearing, regional wines, food, art educational programs and wool products. The Williams Woolshed also houses the local visitor centre.
•Located on the banks of the picturesque Williams River, Lions Park is a pleasant spot for a barbecue or picnic for travelers and locals.
•Take a relaxing walk or cycle on the cycle-way that begins at the Shell Roadhouse and runs along the river.