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Allan M. Williams, 1892 – 1979

Allan M. Williams, 1892-1979Allan M. Williams, long-time Ionia County Engineer, pioneer of modern road building, and the man who invented the roadside picnic table, died one Sunday afternoon in 1979 at an East Lansing nursing home. He was 87 years old and had been ill since suffering a stroke late that winter. He had been confined to a nursing home in East Lansing for several months. Services were held that Wednesday at 11am from the first Methodist Church of Ionia.

Williams served as engineer-manager of the Ionia County Road Commission from 1919 to 1957 and under his supervision Ionia County built the roads and developed the all-seasons road maintenance system that won a national award and was often cited as a model.

Williams was also for many years an officer and manager of the Ionia Free Fair. He founded and developed Bertha Brock Park, the Ionia County Airport, and was a founder of Ionia County Memorial Hospital. He served numerous professional and charitable organizations as president, officer and member.

The achievement for which Williams became most widely known, nationally and internationally was as inventor and designer of the roadside picnic table. The site of the first table, at the intersection of Morrison Lake Road and Grand River Avenue, in Boston Township, was awarded an historical marker in 1964.

Early years...

Williams was born in Ludington on January 26, 1892. He graduated from Ludington High School in 1912 and entered Kalamazoo College. He transferred to the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1916.

After graduation from Michigan, he was employed by Western Hydro Electric Co. and Pruden Wheel Works, both in Detroit. He joined the Michigan State Highway Department as a project engineer in 1918. In conjunction with a $50 million dollar highway bond issue in 1919, he drafted the state's first complete highway map. Williams came to Ionia in 1919 as engineer-manager of the Ionia County Road Commission, about the same time the late Fred W. Green, later Governor of Michigan, became a member of the county road commission. Between 1919 and 1927, Williams continued as project engineer for the state highway department as well as serving as engineer-manager of Ionia County Roads.

Between 1919 and 1925, Williams designed and oversaw the construction of the first Ionia County roads rights-of-way wider than standard 66 feet, some of the first such roads built in Michigan. During his first years at the road commission, he also pioneered in the use of the straight-blade snow plow, as substitute for the standard V-plow, thereby eliminating traffic tie-ups by reducing roadside snowbanks and facilitating snow removal.


More Information

This article was originally featured on the Ionia County Road Commission website, but was removed when the Road Commission was dissolved and its operations were assumed by the County of Ionia as the Ionia County Road Department.