So, who the hell was John R and how did the street get his name?
From it’s beginnings intersecting Woodward Avenue South of Grand Circus Park to its conclusion at the mouth of Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills, most Detroiters know the name of John R. Road. And while the street runs well over 26 miles, few people in Southeast Michigan actually know who the hell was John R?
John R. Williams was an American soldier, merchant, and politician who served as the first mayor of the city of Detroit, Michigan. In total, he served for four terms as Detroit’s mayor. He adopted the moniker John R. in order to avoid confusion with another John Williams who was living in the area at the time.
Raised in his mother’s French Canadian enclave, Williams both spoke and wrote fluently in both French and English. He married Mary Mott in 1804, and the couple had ten children together. Williams served in the Territorial Militia from 1796 to 1799 at Fort Marsac in Tennessee. Upon his discharge from the army, Williams returned to Detroit and joined his uncle, Joseph Campau, in his successful mercantile business. During the War of 1812, Williams again served in the militia, this time as the captain of an artillery company.
After the end of the War of 1812, Williams was appointed an Associate Justice of the County Court for Michigan in 1815. In 1824, Williams wrote the first City Charter and served as the first official mayor of the City of Detroit. He was also elected and served as the fourth and thirteenth mayor in 1830 and 1844–1846, In addition to serving as mayor, Williams was a landowner, merchant, and bank president. He served as one of the first trustees of the University of Michigan, was a president of the Detroit Board of Education, and was a delegate to the first Michigan Constitutional Convention. Williams died at the age of seventy-two on October 20, 1854
Here is the most curious fact about how this street was named. Unlike many streets which are named posthumously to honor someone, Williams was very much alive when the street was named. He actually gave the road its name himself.
— Various Sources