Willis

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Map of Montgomery County

Willis, a lumbering and agricultural market town, is on the Missouri Pacific Railroad eight miles north of Conroe in north central Montgomery County. In 1870, as the Houston and Great Northern Railroad began surveying Montgomery County's first rail line, Galveston merchants Peter J. and Richard S. Willis, landholders in Montgomery County, donated a townsite to the railroad along the proposed route. By that time a number of Black farmers in the vicinity had already organized a Methodist congregation, which became the first church in the community of Willis. By 1872 the rail line had been extended through the town, and most of the businesses and residents of Danville, Montgomery, and Old Waverly had begun moving to the new town. That same year, a post office was established and a White Baptist congregation was organized. In 1874 citizens of the burgeoning new community launched a prolonged but unsuccessful struggle to transfer the county seat from rival Montgomery to Willis. A weekly newspaper, the Willis Observer, began publication as early as 1875. By the late 1870s Willis had become a prosperous shipping point for timber and agricultural commodities and a center for the manufacture of lumber products, wagons, and agricultural implements. In 1879 the town's first White Methodist church was constructed. In the early 1880s a three-story building was erected to house the Willis Male and Female College which, until its demise in 1901, functioned as a semi-private boarding school for students in elementary grades through college.

By 1884, in addition to its various schools and churches, Willis boasted several steam-powered saw and grist mills, two cotton gins, a brickyard, a saloon and gambling house, a Grange hall, numerous grocery and dry-goods stores, and a population of 600. In 1888 the town's first Church of Christ was constructed. By 1890 population had climbed to 700, and three hotels and a second weekly newspaper, the Willis Index, were in operation. During the late nineteenth century the Willis area became the leading tobacco growing region in the state; before the lifting of the tariff on Cuban tobacco killed the boom in the early twentieth century, Willis supported as many as seven cigar factories. As tobacco culture declined, a boom in the production of timber and agricultural products kept the town's economy thriving. Although population fell somewhat to an estimated 500 in 1892, by 1904 it had leaped to an estimated 832 and continued to climb slowly for the next two decades. The Willis State Bank was established in 1911. In 1913 there were 271 pupils enrolled in the Willis Independent School District. By 1914 yet another weekly newspaper, the Willis Star, had appeared, and a telephone exchange was in operation.

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Charles Christopher Jackson | © TSHA

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Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.

Adopted by: Therese Palermo & Bernie Hughes
Adoption Message: The Hughes Family
Until: May 9th, 2027

Belongs to

Willis is part of or belongs to the following places:

Currently Exists

Yes

Place type

Willis is classified as a Town

Location

Latitude: 30.42577400
Longitude: -95.48198400

Has Post Office

Yes

Is Incorporated

Yes

Population Count, 2021 View more »

6,710