The Park » About the James River Park System
An Island Flanked by Two Dams
The relatively flat and heavily vegetated Williams Island is a 95-acre blend of nature, history and serenity. The island has been home to black bears and, at one time, an albino deer. Other animals include raccoons, muskrat, skunk and wild turkey. It has always been a popular fishing spot and there are worn foot paths through the wild underbrush all around the island, most likely “maintained” and shared by a combination of fisherman and wildlife.
Surrounding the island are two distinctly different channels, both are blocked by dams, built to help divert water into the city’s purification plant. On the south side, is the highly visible Z-dam which, according to the Falls of the James, by David Ryan, was rebuilt in 1932, replacing a dam of loose rocks. It was altered with a 30-foot notch in 1993 to allow migratory fish species such as shad, river herring and striped bass to swim upstream. The north channel is much more peaceful and calm, with the serenity broken up only by the occasional train. The dam was constructed in 1905 and begins at the northeast shore of the island and runs across the river to a portion of the north bank known as “Dead Man’s Hill,” as documented by Ryan. The island is used to portage around the dams and the public is allowed to visit the island.