Williams and the 9,170-foot Bill Williams Mountain are named for an eccentric fur trapper who explored the Southwest for about 30 years before a war party of Utes killed him in 1849 in southern Colorado, according to Arizona historian Marshall Trimble.
A quarter century later, the first settlers put down roots in Williams. The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad arrived in 1882 and that fostered cattle and lumber operations in the area.
Tourism took off in 1901 with the completion of a Santa Fe Railroad line to Grand Canyon. Route 66 was established in 1926 and brought tens of millions of motorists through Williams over nearly 60 years.
Williams was the last town on Route 66 bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1984. The town was crippled by the loss of motorists rolling through on its pair of one-way streets.
Grand Canyon Railway came to the rescue of Williams in 1989 bringing train loads of visitors after a few years.
The mountain town ramped up its dormant tourism businesses with rail passengers bound for the Grand Canyon just as Route 66 nostalgia was gaining traction across Arizona.
Williams renaissance is a pleasant surprise for anyone who passed through the forlorn town in the mid-1980s. Now the summer sidewalks are full of people in the evening and motels are full of Route 66 roadies and train travelers.
Williams paved Route 66 early
In 1928, Williams' main business district was one of the first paved sections of Route 66 on the 2-year-old highway.
In 1957, Railroad Avenue was designated as Route 66 for westbound traffic and Bill Williams Avenue was the one-way route for eastbound traffic on the Mother Road. It's cool how some of the businesses spanned the one-way routes to lure customers on both roads. http://bit.ly/2wFMlXD
Hungry travelers should try Anna's Grand Canyon Coffee & Cafe and the Pine Country Restaurant for breakfast and lunch. Pine Country is also known for its extensive menus of pies.
Rod's Steak House, which opened in 1946, has long been a reliable spot for good burgers or steaks. Look for the fiberglass steer on the roof.
Red Raven Restaurant is a legitimate fine dining restaurant with reasonable prices and a good wine and dessert list.
Grand Canyon Hotel is one of Arizona's oldest inns. Other historic hotels brag about visits by presidents and Hollywood stars while Grand Canyon Hotel boasts that it hosted naturalist John Muir, the Vanderbilts and the King of Siam. http://bit.ly/2w4FiGw
We also like the Lodge on Route 66 and the Red Garter Inn, a four-room bed and breakfast in a well-restored 1897 building that started out as a saloon and bordello.
In the evening, visit the throwback Canyon Club and World Famous Sultana Bar. The well-aged Williams watering holes are among Arizona's best saloons. And don't miss Historic Brewery Barrel & Bottle House. Historic's Piehole Porter, with cherry and vanilla flavors, is one of their best brews.
Riding that train, high on the plain
The tourist train leaves Williams for Grand Canyon at 9 a.m. and the railroad folks stage mock gunfights at the depot before boarding passengers. The train travels at a leisurely pace to the South Rim. The best scenery is near Williams and Grand Canyon in the Ponderosa pine forest.
Another popular family attraction is Bearizona Wildlife Park just east of town at I-40 and State Route 64. Visitors drive and walk through the 160-acre zoo in the pines. Admission is $15 for children ages 4-12, $25 for adults and $23 for seniors 62 and older.
Grand Canyon Deer Farm is 8 miles east of Williams at Exit 171 off I-40. The 10-acre petting zoo includes reindeer, coatimundis, wallabies and talking birds. Admission is $14 for adults, $12.50 for seniors 62 and older and $8 for children 3 to 13.
There's lots of hiking and camping in the Kaibab National Forest near Williams. To get to the Bill Williams Mountain trailhead, go west on Railroad Avenue from downtown for a mile and turn left at the sign for the Williams District Ranger Station. Follow the signs along the frontage road to the trail
For a backroad adventure, take Fourth Street south out of town, which becomes the Perkinsville Road. It's paved for 30 miles and then is a relatively smooth dirt road that descends into the Verde Valley and climbs up to mile-high Jerome, the former mining town perched on Cleopatra Hill.
This 90-minute route is OK for passenger vehicles except in wet or snowy weather Warning: There are no services and little traffic.
Thirty miles to go to Flagstaff: http://www.ontheroadarizona.com/flagstaff66.html