Williams has a rich history and tucked within the cabinets, drawers and attics of many local families lay documents, photos and other archives that bring that history to life.
Realizing that some of these treasures were being discarded or tucked away, Williams Public Library librarian Andrea Dunn and Kaibab National Forest Heritage and Tribal Relations Program manager Margaret Hangan joined forces in 2009 and created the Williams Historical Photo Project to preserve as many historic photos as possible.
Initially, Dunn and Hangan, along with many volunteers, looked to just preserve these photos and historical documents in a digital format, but in 2015, the group moved into the Williams Visitor Center and created a small museum called the Gateway to Williams History.
Formerly the location of the Williams Chamber of Commerce, the Gateway to Williams History museum allows the volunteers not only the space they need to scan historic photos for the digital collection, but also to create an area for historical displays from donated articles.
“(The goal) is to preserve the history of Williams and the surrounding area and be a source of historic information,” Hangan said, “and to educate the public about the history of Williams.”
Hangan said she encourages the local community to explore the project at the visitor center.
“Let us know how we are doing,” she said. “There are more great photo collections out there that we would love to scan.”
In addition to photos and documents, Hangan said the group is interested in finding volunteers to collect oral histories and conduct historic research.
“Anyone interested in volunteering to help process collections, we will train you,” she said.
Hangan said the volunteers have recently been busy processing a significant collection of photos from the family of a former forest ranger who worked for Kaibab National Forest in the 1920s and 1930s.
All of the photos scanned by volunteers are kept digitally at the Williams Visitor Center, but many of the photos can be viewed online at the Arizona Memory Project or on Facebook at Williams Historic Photo Project.
Most of the photos on the Arizona Memory Project website are based on major themes that researchers are interested in such as Route 66, the railway, ranching, forestry, and key people and events.
“(We get photos) from all over the country,” Hangan said. “When we put up the collection on the Arizona Memory Project, we started getting contacted from families all over the country. A lot of people have traveled through this area or worked here temporarily over the last 120 years or so. Interestingly, many of them owned cameras. It’s amazing what people have stowed away in their closets, attics or basements.”
Hangan said many of the historic photos are personal to families, but some also contain history of the area.
“There also are generally some great photos of Williams,” Hangan said. “It’s amazing how many photos of Williams parades are out there.”
The Williams Historic Photo Project currently has five volunteers, not including Dunn and Hangan.
“The volunteers assist with organizing collections, scanning photos, developing the displays in the museum, collecting oral histories and conducting historic research,” Hangan said.
Hangan said the majority of the photos are returned to the owners.
“We scan them in and return the collection to the owner along with copies of the scanned images,” she said. “With permission from the owner, we make the collections available to historians and genealogists.”
Hangan encourages anyone with historical Williams photos or documents to come to the visitor center or library for more information.
“We have the donor fill out a form that will give us permission to make the collections available to the public,” she said.
Hangan said the group has many plans for the continued development of the museum which includes developing new displays, processing more photo collections and gathering more oral histories.
“We have the best volunteers,” she said. “They are the ones who created the displays at the museum. One of our volunteers is also gathering oral histories from some of our great elderly citizens before we lose all that great information. We hope to find more people interested in gathering oral histories.”
Anyone interested in viewing the photos and displays can see the Gateway to Williams History at the Williams Visitor Center at 200 West Railroad Avenue. For those with photo collections, documents or historical artifacts, Hangan and Dunn can be reached at the Williams Public Library at (928) 635-2263.