It began with the first house built in Erie County, popularly known as the Evans House now marked by a plaque at Main and Mill, Williamsville, by the original surveyors of the area, John Thomson and Joseph Ellicott, in 1780.
Lumber to build more houses and businesses had to be milled, and Ellicott built the first mill along the present Ellicott Creek, then called Eleven Mile Creek. He failed in that venture, but the idea was a good one whose success depended on the enterprise of another developer, described by some as a land speculator, Jonas Williams, in 1804.
He also built two grist or feed mills, a sawmill, tannery, distillery, and dams and raceways to power the mills. He owned and operated so much in the area it became known as Williams Mills, later Williamsville.
The present-day Williamsville Water Mills, in continuous operation since 1811, is the last reminder of that era and is now a registered national landmark.
The War of 1812, brought fame and misfortune to the area, as growth declined and businesses failed.
However, another enterprising man, Oziel Smith, bought up much of the business property and all water rights to Ellicott Creek, developing them into thriving concerns, and completed the Eagle House, an inn and coach stop, in 1832, partially to fill the needs of new settlers brought in by the Erie Canal.
In the mid 1800s a business directory listed farmers, dealers in general merchandise, nurserymen, saloon keepers, harness dealers and painters, broom dealers, lime dealers, blacksmiths, wagon makers and dealers in boots and shoes as well as attorneys, physicians, dentists, brokers and dealers.
A map shows one hotel, four schools, five churches, a brewery, two quarries, several grist and saw mills, a tannery, a furnace, cement works, a bedstead factory, carding mill, paper mill and a forge.
More modern transportation and the increased importance of the port of Buffalo to that city and area manufacturing led to a decline in the village’s industrial base at the turn of the century.
Business continued as usual, however, as merchants, innkeepers and professionals provided services to visitors from the city and residents of the surrounding countryside, much as they do today.
Over 200 years have passed since Jonas Williams and others arrived at the junction of Ellicott Creek and the “Buffalo Road” to give name and form to a small community called Williams Mills. During those years there has been growth and decline, success and failure, yet through it all, the identity and integrity of the community have endured.
Although surrounded on all sides and dwarfed by the larger Town of Amherst, Williamsville maintains a geographic and political independence. The village form of government is said to be “closest to the people.” Certainly it has served them well, as they have served it.
The Village is celebrating their 200th birthday with many events planned by the Bicentennial Committee. Join the fun and explore the history.
An expanded village history is available with a walking tour at the Village Hall, 5565 Main Street.