William Edward Carson was born at Enniskillen, (now Northern) Ireland, on October 8, 1870. He came to America in 1885, took over his father’s lime-manufacturing plant at Riverton, and turned it into a lucrative business. From 1908 to 1919 he chaired the board of directors of the National Lime Manufacturers Association, during World War I (1914–1918) he served with the War Industry Board, and from 1923 to 1926 he was a member of the Hampton Roads Port Commission.
Will and his brother, Adam Clarke “Kit” Carson, became friendly with Winchester neighbor, which led to close friend-and-mentor relationships with Byrd’s sons, Harry and Dick. These friendships moved Carson into Democratic Party politics; he led the Seventh District Democratic Committee and served on the state central committee from 1910 to 1940.
When Harry Byrd ran for governor in 1925, Will Carson managed his campaign. As a reward for his efforts, Byrd appointed Carson to be the unpaid chairman of the newly created Commission on Conservation and Development, whose primary task was to promote Virginia as a favorable location for new businesses and destination for tourists. During his tenure from 1926 to 1934, Carson hadplaced to designate historical sites and encouraged the creation of the Colonial National Historical Park, which connected Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
Byrd also assigned Carson the task of collecting pledges and acquiring land for the newly created, an assignment Carson energetically carried out. He discovered, however, that land prices far exceeded earlier estimates, tripling the acquisition costs. Carson recommended that Byrd cut the size of the park in half by eliminating some of the higher-priced land. The result was a smaller, but more manageable park. Carson also utilized the advice of his brother, Kit Carson, to draw up legislation to reduce litigation in the acquisition of park lands. Carson’s negotiations with U.S. president Herbert Hoover in the establishment of Hoover’s fishing camp on the Rapidan River in Madison County were a prelude to the development of Skyline Drive.
The Commission on Conservation and Development reflected its divided nature in the creation of Shenandoah National Park for both scenic and commercial purposes. This rift also manifested itself in the objectives of its two creators, Harry Byrd and Will Carson. Although both thought the commission could help develop the state, Byrd focused on the need to lure industry, while Carson emphasized the appeal of Virginia’s natural resources and history to tourists and business alike. Byrd eventually took the value of the tourist trade seriously, but the influence of Carson’s more subtle advertising approach enabled him to become the commission’s driving force. He was later recognized for his work when a peak in Shenandoah National Park was named for him.
Carson’s ambition for higher office and his efforts to keep the commission out of politics soon cost him his friendship with Byrd. When they disagreed about the appointment of a new secretary for the commission and about compensation for Carson’s brother for his legal services, their relationship cooled. Byrd supported George Campbell Peery for governor in 1933 instead of Carson, and when the commission was reorganized in 1934 on a paid basis, Carson announced his retirement after it became clear the Byrd Organization would not offer him the post of chairman. He returned full-time to his business activities in Riverton and died there on March 25, 1942.