Friday, May 10, 2013

Williams Street

Williams Street is a street in the Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods. In Midtown, it runs north-south from 16th Street to 4th Street. It reappears Downtown, running north-south from Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard to Andrew Young International Boulevard, then angling southeast and terminating at Peachtree Street. It's had this name since at least 1853.

Part of Williams Street in Midtown, via Google Maps

Other Names

None known.

Name Origins

Williams Street was named for Ammi Williams (1780-1864), an early settler of the Atlanta area. According to historian Franklin Garrett:
One of the most extensive land owners of early Atlanta was Ammi Williams. He was born in Connecticut in 1780; brought up in Virginia, and was attracted to Georgia by the discovery of gold around Dahlonega in the early 1830's. He came to De Kalb County during the same decade and acquired extensive holdings, with Reuben Cone, in Land Lot No. 78, which now includes much of downtown Atlanta. Like Judge Cone, he gave his name to a street originating in that land lot. Mr. Williams died at his home in Decatur on March 30, 1864, survived by his wife, neƩ Laura Loomis, and several children, and lies buried under a large monument in Oakland Cemetery.
Garrett raises a few points worth elaborating. When Williams first arrived in DeKalb County, he constructed a log cabin that became Decatur's oldest building still standing. Known today as the Swanton House (for a later resident, Benjamin Swanton), it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968.

The oldest building in Decatur, the Swanton House
(Credit: DeKalb History Center)

Second, like many Atlanta pioneers, Williams raised a large family which came to encompass numerous prominent citizens. His daughter Laura Loomis Williams (1820-1879) married L. P. Grant (1817-1893), a wealthy Atlanta railroad man and namesake of Grant Park. Williams' son Frederick A. Williams (1817-1883), following the Civil War, operated a sawmill and factory, for which Williams Mill Road is named.

Third, Williams and his family are buried in Oakland Cemetery, but their final resting place has not gone entirely undisturbed. In 2010, the brick vault containing Ammi Williams' remains collapsed, partially exposing its contents, while crews were straightening a nearby marble obelisk. The obelisk was relocated and Williams' grave repaired, ending the surprise sunbath.

The naming of Williams Street for Ammi Williams unexpectedly impeded a later Atlantan from receiving the same honor. When James E. Williams (1826-1900) completed his second term as mayor of Atlanta, the City Council wanted to recognize his public service by naming a street for him. Unfortunately, "Williams Street" had already been named for Ammi (no known relation) for at least a decade. Instead, he passed the honor to his young son, Willie Fort Williams, for whom Fort Street is named.

Garrett, Franklin M. (1954). Atlanta and Environs, Volume I. University of Georgia Press (p. 662)
Pioneer Citizens' Society of Atlanta. (1902). Pioneer Citizens' History of Atlanta, 1833-1902 (p. 108)
Westbrook, David. (2010). "Endangered Marker Saved." The Oakland Herald 25(2)

Name Sightings

Williams Street appears on the oldest known street map of Atlanta, the 1853 Vincent map.

Related Streets

Fort Street, named for Willie Fort Williams because "Williams Street" was taken
Loomis Avenue, named for Ammi's wife's family name, Loomis
Williams Mill Road, named for Ammi's son, Frederick A. Williams