|Charles Anderson thinks Williams, Ariz. ranks in the top 50 small towns in the United States. Ryan Williams/WGCN|
Williams residents already know the city is a great place to live, but now Williams has earned a spot on a list of America's 100 Best Small Cities.
Retired geography and civics teacher Charles Nathan Anderson calls his list "In Search of Eden," and Williams comes in at number 44. Anderson has spent more than 50 years doing research for his list, which he has yet to publish.
Anderson and his wife, who spend most of the year in Winter Haven, Fla., usually spend the summer months in Williams since their daughter lives here.
But Anderson's ties to Williams didn't automatically qualify the city for a spot on his list. Anderson officially added Williams about six months ago, after taking into account the major changes in the downtown area in the last couple of years.
"Three or four years ago it still had a quaint Route 66 old rustic downtown, but it's become a much classier more prosperous looking downtown," Anderson said.
The most significant of those changes, according to Anderson, was the new Italian Bistro with outdoor dining space in the center of town. The restaurant, which took the place of an auto parts store, inspired other businesses to make improvements as well, Anderson said.
"It really has made a different looking town in an amazingly short time," Anderson said. "I think a town is no better than its downtown."
Other factors that earned Williams a spot on the list include its portion of historic Route 66, alpine scenery, proximity to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, climate, gateway arch and clock plaza.
Anderson said he's always had an interest in studying places, starting from childhood when he'd travel with his parents from their native Michigan.
"I always knew there was a better place in the wintertime than what Michigan was, and I always thought I wanted to live someplace else," Anderson said.
When Anderson was studying geography at Michigan State University, he found a book of the 50 best small cities by Norman Ford.
"It sounded like something that if I was going to find the right place for my family it would help me out," Anderson said. "I studied that and went to a lot of the towns that he wrote about and thought he did a good job, but as I studied my geography at the same time I decided maybe I could update it and maybe do a better job because I have a pretty good background to do that sort of thing."
So since about 1962, Anderson has been traveling, researching and perfecting his list.
When choosing the top cities, Anderson took into account the town itself, the setting, the climate, the town's identity, accessibility, medical care, schools, living costs, employment, entertainment, the state and personal safety.
Originally, Anderson had planned on turning his list into a book. However, when a furnace explosion killed Anderson's mother and destroyed his almost finished book in 1989, he put those plans on hold.
"I just really wasn't in the mood to start over again and do it again," he said, "I still never stopped the researching of the towns because I needed something to get my mind off of the bad things that had happened."
About 12 years ago, Anderson resumed his project, not wanting all of his hard work to go to waste. At this point, Anderson learned how to use a computer, which made research for his list much easier.
He decided to start out by notifying each of the newspapers in the top 50 cities about the list. Next, he hopes to publish the list in a national magazine and then publish it online.
"It never really was about a book, it was always about the list itself," Anderson said. "The book takes a long time but the research takes an awful lot longer than that. That was what was really important was having the right cities in the right place."
At number 44, Williams is the top city in the state on the list. Other Arizona cities to make the list include Wickenburg at number 52 and Payson in the 61-100 category.
"There are actually thousands of small towns in this country," Anderson said. "If you're number 100 it still puts you in a really small category compared to all the other cities."
Anderson hopes Williams residents will feel proud that their city made the list.
"It hasn't made me any richer, but I hope it's made people feel good," Anderson said. "I think it will make a lot of people smile."
More information about the list is available from Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.