Williamston is a city in Ingham County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The city is at the southeast corner of Williamstown Township, but is politically independent. A portion of Williamston was annexed from adjacent Wheatfield Township. Downtown Williamston is located at the intersection of Grand River Avenue (M-43) and Putnam Street (Williamston Road). The population was 3,854 at the 2010 census. Williamston is most notable for its antiques markets, and it has been promoted as a quaint, small town just outside the larger city of Lansing. It recently renovated McCormick Park, which borders the Red Cedar River in downtown Williamston.
The location that was later to become Williamston started as the cross-road of the Grand River and Saginaw Indian Trails. It was first occupied by a small band of the Saginaw tribe of the Chippewa People which by the mid-19th century used the area as a 'summer village' (it was not used by them year-round, but they 'wintered' in the area that is now Meridian Township). They used Williamston for planting crops, burying their dead, and holding an annual spring gathering, primarily using the land just north of the Red Cedar River.
The area was settled by Europeans in 1834 when Hiram and Joseph Putnam moved briefly to the area from Jackson. They spent less than one full year in the area, planting and then harvesting one crop of oats. Today, inside the city limits, Williamston Road becomes Putnam Street, having been named in their honor. (For many years, several street signs inside the city were misspelled as "Putman Street", leading to confusion about the correct spelling.)
In 1839, the Putnams sold their land to Oswald B., James M., and Horace B. Williams, three brothers from Batavia, New York. James M. "Miles" Williams, who built a dam, saw mill and later a grist mill in town, eventually platted the land in 1845 and named the town "Williamstown" after himself. It is unknown how it lost the "w" in its name.
The town was a popular stop on the Grand River trail (that later became a plank road) from Detroit to Lansing in the 19th century. That trail is now Grand River Avenue (M-43) which runs through downtown Williamston. Because the primary means of transportation at that time was the horse and buggy and because the trip from Detroit to Lansing took more than one day, Williamston became a convenient overnight stop.
The town was incorporated as a village in 1871, and later as a city on April 1, 1945. A later revised City Charter was adopted by the people effective in April 1963. This charter has been amended several times, but remains in effect today.
A history of the area was published for the City's centennial celebration in 1971. It included many photographs and stories of the early city and its inhabitants. There were earlier histories, as well, published in 1880, the 1930s, and in 1963.