HON. WALTER W. WILLIAMS, than whom no better example of the wide-awake, progressive and public-spirited American citizen could be readily found, had made his name one of the best known in southern Illinois through displaying exceptional business talent and marked legal ability, and his versatility is testified to by the various business and financial interests with which he is and has been connected. Mr. Williams was born in Williamson county, Illinois, January 18, 1873, and is a son of John G. and Louisa M. (Harrison) Williams, the former a native of Posey county, Indiana, and the latter of Williamson county, Illinois.
John G. Williams came to Illinois as a young man and engaged in agricultural pursuits, being also the manager of a milling business. He served for a short time as a private in Company A, One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, but was discharged on account of disability, and no doubt his army experience hastened his death, which occurred in 1875, when he was only thirty-eight years of age. He was an ardent Democrat in politics, and was a charter member and at the time of his death treasurer of Herrin Lodge of the Masonic fraternity. Louisa M. Williams, his wife, was one of the best-known and most highly talented business women of southern Illinois, with her brother, D. R. Harrison, and Ephraim Herrin, developed the Herrin coal field, now the most important coal field in Williamson county. Little is remembered of the paternal grandparents of Walter W. Williams, but his maternal grandfather, George Harrison, was one of the very first settlers of Williamson county, whence he came from Tennessee and became a prominent farmer and merchant of his his daughter into valuable coal fields. He served in the Black Hawk day, owning large tracts of land which were afterwards developed by war, and died in 1846, respected and esteemed by all.
Walter W. Williams received his early educational training in the common schools of Williamson county, and in 1890 entered in the common schools of Williamson county, and in 1890 entered the Southern Illinois Normal University, at Carbondale, which he attended one year. He was then engaged in teaching for two years, when he went back to the university, and after spending two years in study again began teaching, becoming principal of the schools in Carterville, Illinois, later teaching history in the Greenville, Bond county, schools, and being superintendent of schools at Benton for a year. He then entered the law department of the State University at Champaign, from which he .was graduated in 1903, and in April, 1904, was admitted to the bar. He immediately returned to Benton, where he entered into partnership with W. H. Hart, an association which has continued to the present time, and has become one of the most prominent legal firms in Southern Illinois, as well as one of the wealthiest firms in coal operations. Mr. Williams became interested in the coal industry on his mother's farm, and after he had formed the partnership with Mr. Hart began buying options on property and organizing different coal companies. This firm, together with Joseph P. Rend, of Chicago, have recently closed the largest deal in coal lands ever made in Southern Illinois, selling to the United States Steel corporation forty thousand acres of coal land in Franklin county. Mr. Williams assisted in getting the Leiter lands together, which were sold to “Joe” Leiter, and when the Leiter estate was settled the firm of Hart & Williams acted as associate counsel for the vast fortunes of the Leiter estate and helped to invoice all of their properties in Illinois. This firm opened up Mine No. 11, at West Frankfort, Illinois, and then, with J. R. Williams and Judge P. A. Pierce, opened up the Benton Coal Company. Subsequently they sold their interests in this firm and opened the Hart & Williams Mines, incorporated at two hundred thousand dollars. These mines have a daily output of two thousand, five hundred tons, employ four hundred and fifty men, ship their product to fourteen states, and have offices in Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis. Mr. Williams is president of this company, and also of the Pope-Jones Coal Company and of the Egyptian Southern Railway, and until he sold his interests was vice president of the First National bank of West Frankfort, which he and his partner, Judge Hart, organized. The firm of Hart & Williams owns a large general store in Benton, in addition to numerous town properties, and own and control three thousand acres of land in Franklin county. Mr. Williams has been a member of the executive committee of the Illinois Coal Operators Association for the past ten years.
In 1904 Mr. Williams was elected to represent the Fiftieth Senatorial district, comprising the counties of Williamson, Franklin, Union, and Pulaski and Alexander in the Illinois State Legislature, serving on the committees on banks and banking, Chicago charter and judiciary. He is a stalwart Democrat and has always been a hard worker in the ranks of his party, becoming widely known as a campaign speaker. For one term he was chairman of the County Democratic Committee of Williamson county, and in order to secure a better Democratic organ purchased the interest of Judge Jno. Washburn in the Egyptian Press, at Marion, Illinois, and later bought a half interest in the Marion Post. He is a member of the school board, of which he served as president for a number of years. Fraternally he is a Mason and an Elk.
On June 27, 1906, Mr. Williams was married to Miss Mary V. Moore, daughter of Carroll Moore, whose sketch appears elsewhere in this work, and she died in 1909, leaving two children, Margaret Eudora and Mary Louisa.
Mr. Williams has frequently appeared as a public speaker, especially during political campaigns, and his style is of a character to command the respect and attention of his audience. As a public officer he has few superiors; as a coal operator he has a wide reputation for executive capacity and able management of affairs; and it would be hard to find a man better adapted to organizing capital to promote such enterprises as he may become interested in, his foresight and sagacity in business matters fitting him especially therefor. His power over men and hence his influence in social, political and business matters is of that quiet order that makes little outward show, yet is a potent factor in shaping the success of the community in which he resides. In every walk of life he has earned the right to be classed among Illinois' representative men.
Extracted from A History of Southern Illinois, 1912, Volume 2, page 935-936