Williams, Oregon History
by Joan Momsen

Williams Creek was named after Captain Robert Williams, whose troops skirmished with the Native Americans on this creek on or near August 16, 1853. "Williamsburg" was named after the creek and the name was eventually changed to Williams.

Williamsburg was established in 1859 as a mining community. Many of the gold-bearing deposits elsewhere in Southern Oregon were being exhausted and when gold was found in the area, a town sprung up.

At one time Williamsburg had a couple of mercantile stores, a mining supply store, three saloons, a blacksmith shop and two hotels. White families were few, but there were many single white miners and Indians. After 1863 there was a large community of Chinese.

There were only about 10 or 12 families in the area, the rest being lone miners. Some, but not all, of the homesteaders who arrived along Williams Creek in the early days were the James Gibson family and Hiram Sparlin in the early 1860's. In 1867 Elijah B. Davidson and his family arrived, followed by Oscar Topping (c. 1869), James Hartley (c. 1873), Albert Shoemaker (c. 1874) and George Bunch in 1885.

By 1882 Williamsburg was one of the five precincts in Josephine County; Althouse, Kerbyville, Slate Creek and Jump Off Joe were the others.

Two cemeteries are located across the street (Water Gap Road) from each other. The Sparlin Cemetery was established in the early 1860's when a woman named Mrs. Farris, possibly the sister-in-law of Hiram Sparlin, died during January and the creeks were full due to heavy rainfall. Because it would have been difficult to get her body to the nearest burial ground, Hiram suggested she be buried in an oak grove on his land. He later donated the three-acres of land to the community. The Provolt family, after which the Jackson County community of Provolt is named, is also buried in the Sparlin Cemetery.

As the word-of-mouth story goes, the Gotcher Cemetery was established when Mary Brown was buried there. She had once remarked that it was a beautiful spot to be buried, and when she passed away, she got her wish. The land was then given to the community. The cemeteries were established about 30 years apart.

Around 1880, before the railroad came through Southern Oregon, a four-ton block of marble was cut from a quarry near Williams to be part of the Washington Monument at our nation's capital. Since there was no railroad, the slab had to be hauled by horses to the railhead in California. Somewhere between Ashland, Oregon and Redding, California the marble block split in half. The cutter, Mr. Russell, had to return to the Williams quarry to cut another block. Russell was a bit put out with the situation because the contract he held with the United States government to obtain the slab of marble had no provision for a second try; therefore, he made only a small profit from his endeavor. The monument was completed in December of 1884 with granite, limestone and marble from many states.

Speaking of marble, Williams is the starting point for the backside approach to the "Marbled Halls of Oregon," better known as the Oregon Caves National Monument. From Caves Camp Road out of Williams, to the Oregon Caves Highway, an hour or so of a bumpy, dusty ride will end just a few miles from the national monument. This route is probably close to the one followed by Elijah J. Davidson (age 21) and his friends when they started hunting the middle fork of Williams Creek in 1874 and discovered the caves. In 1877 Elijah and his brother, Carter, located the caves once again and tried to explore them until their torches burned out.

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Josephine County: The Golden Beginnings

Related Links:

Josephine County Historical Society