A History of Williamson

Williamson is a small city located in Mingo County. Mingo County sits in West Virginia on the Kentucky border. Williamson is relatively small, with a population of 3,100. The people living there do so in an area of about 3 sq miles. Across the Tug Fork River is Kentucky. Williamson sits at 639 feet above sea level, compared to the 46 foot elevation of the Arlington area.

Williamson was incorporated a city in 1892. It is largely believed that Williamson was founded in honor of Wallace J Williamson. Mr. Williamson owned most of the land that is today the city. He also founded the very first bank and hotel in the area. If not Wallace, it would be named for his father, Benjamin F Williamson, who originally divided the land amongst his sons. No matter the name sake, Williamson has an interesting history.

Originally settled in the late 1700s-early 1800s, the land that is now Williamson was cleared, and then sold to the Williamson family. In 1888, surveyors came to the small town to start looking into building a railroad. The railroad would be created to help aid extraction of coal in the area. Coal was becoming increasingly valuable as the demand for this fossil fuel increased. The railroad was completed in 1892 after four years.

The construction of the rail was great for the new city. The population increased from just fewer than 700 in 1900 to 6,800 in 1920. As the railway was finished, many buildings sprung up to accommodate the new people. At the turn of the century, Williamson was fully modernized. Water lines were laid in the city. Thomas Garner started the first newspaper, The Williamson Enterprise, and the first power company. Telephones were added to the city in 1900.

Williamson increased its development. Private telephones came in 1903 for home use. Many streets were paved for the first time a year later. A new courthouse was erected with a clock tower. The Olympic Opera House was added in 1902, and it is still standing in the same place. A private school, the Presbyterian Academy, and the First National Bank were added in 1903.

In 1906, a fire destroyed 20 buildings. Determined not to let this slow development, a public school, movie theater, a bridge to Kentucky, a hospital and fire department were added. These new establishments were completed in the next 20 or so years after the fire. More famous buildings included the new, 3-story city hall, The Mountaineer Hotel and The WW I Memorial Building were also completed.

In the 60s, 70s and 80s, Williamson began to change. With development slowed and economy shrinking, the city was hurt. Many of the oldest businesses left the area or closed down. The population dwindled down to below 5,000 compared to almost 8,000 in 1930. In 1977, the Tug Fork River flooded, damaging much of the city.  This was combined with “development”, which saw many turn of the century buildings to be demolished. Today, Williamson is still a nice city, but it has an aging population and is still declining.

Written by Connor Bryan


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