After serving in the War with Mexico in 1847 and 1848, William R. Allen was mayor of Burlington for two terms. His time in office included the Civil War years, during which Allen strongly supported the union cause.
As president of a local bank, Allen was popular in Burlington's business community. He also served as director of the Library Company of Burlington for nearly thirty years, and resided in the former Smith House.
In 1900, the City named a school in honor of Allen.