A Brief History of Willis, Texas

Willis, Texas is named after the Willis brothers, who donated their land to the railroad in 1870. Because the residents of Danville, Texas, where the Willis brothers lived, decided not to let the rail company run a track through their town, the Willis brothers decided to step in. After building the railroad, the community began to grow, and it wasn’t long before there were hotels, stores, and other businesses. This small city is located a few miles from Conroe in Montgomery County

The Great Northern Railroad

The Great Northern Railroad, now Union Pacific Railroad, wanted to build a rail that would go from Houston and Chicago. There was only one problem, the large plantation owners there were not willing to part with some of their land holdings for this endeavor. Peter J. and Richard S. Willis gave the Great Northern Railroad a townsite along the prospective train route. By 1872, the railroad and station were completed, and recently freed African Americans, residents of Danville, Old Waverly, and Montgomery began to move to Willis. Black farmers and sharecroppers had already built the Thomas Chapel United Methodist Church there in 1867, and in 1872 both a post office and Baptist church were erected. Because of the Great Northern Railroad Company, Willis became a shipping point for timber and cash crops like cotton, tobacco, and watermelons. The manufacture of lumber and lumber products played a big part in many of the homes being built then and even in the homes for sale Willis TX today.


The area was mainly used for agricultural purposes, but as the railroad took root, other industries also began to thrive in Willis. With the cotton gins, a saw and grist mill, a brickyard, and more, Willis was able to leverage the railroad to boost their economy even further. By 1890, the town had a population of 700. And in the late 1800s, the Willis area was one of the major growers of tobacco in Texas and home to at least seven cigar factories. The growth of Willis was increasing at a steady clip as more and more industries were able to put down roots there. 

The Great Depression

Just as the Great Depression took hold, Willis had a population nearing 1,000 inhabitants, but experienced a temporary pause. This caused timber production to take a dip, but when an oil boom hit the county, the population began to rebound. When US Highway 75 was completed in the early 1930s, Willis got another boost. As World War II got underway, agriculture and timber saw a revival. Then US Highway 45 was extended through the town in the early 1960s, to further develop Willis. It made a connection between the industrial and suburban areas in a way that benefited everyone. Further development in the area brought even more residents, and by the 1970s there were nearly 1,500 residents. 


During the late twentieth century, Willis continued to grow, and by the early 21st century, Willis had grown to nearly 4,000 inhabitants. It’s a small city with a lot of rural charm. It’s a great place to raise a family and put down roots with quaint neighborhoods and close proximity to Houston and all that it has to offer.


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