Willisville

Mr and Mrs Floyd Willis were the Pike County citizens in whose honor the community of Willisville was named. They lived there for many years, and had owned and operated a grocery store there for 17 years before it was named in 1962. A family friend, Forest Braden, was instrumental in finalizing the naming of the community sixteen years ago. He stated he knew someone to contact on the state level, presumably in the State Highway Department; and soon thereafter an official highway sign appeared in the area announcing the approach to Pike County's newest villiage, or community - Willisville. It is located about three miles south of Petersburg on Highway 57. Floyd and Inez (Parker) Willis were the parents of seven children. They were Imel, Mary Belle, Wesley, James, Lela Grace, Morris and Orace Wayne. Floyd was one of nine children born to Beverly and Isabelle (Hilburn) Willis. His grandparents were Jasper and Sarah Ellen (Dean) Willis. His greatgrandparents were Maxwell and Jane (Miller) Willis. They were his pioneer ancestors who migrated to Pike County from North Carolina in 1836. That was three years after John Willis, a cousin, had arrived here with his family. Since practally all of the numerous Willis families of Pike County are descended either from the pioneer ancestor John Willis or his cousin Maxwell, their children are hereby named, as follows: Children of Jasper and Sarah (Dean) Willis were: Beverly , the oldest son mentioned above; Rev. Emery Willis; Catherine (Mrs Philmore Jerrell); Louvisa (Mrs Goodlet Jerrel); George; Mariah (Mrs Jessee Richardson); Elizabeth (Mrs James Amos); Cordelia; Charles and two others whose names I don't know. John and Elizabeth (West) Willis were the first of the Willis family to migrate to Pike County in 1833, from North Carolina. Their children were: Jesse; Levi; John Henry; James; Burll; Matilda (Mrs Lewis Loveless); Betsy (Mrs William Martin; Ella, Mary "Pop" (Mrs West Chappell); and Maxwell Willis. Very little history of the numerous Willis families has ever been recorded * except by word of mouth, from one generation to the next. Most of the stories told me by family members about their pioneer ancestors have started with, "My grandparents told me..." Stories about the trip made from North Carolina to Pike County by the John Willis family in 1833, have been recounted many times. Details of the trip are hereby pieced together from stories remembered by late descendents Charles E Miley; Tom Willis; Hattie Barker and Emanuel Wyatt. The trip was made when Burl Willis was a baby. When the mother, Elizabeth, grew tired of riding in the wagon, she rested herself by walking behind the wagon. She propped her baby up in back of the covered wagon so he could see her. In order for the wagons to cross the rivers and large streams, the men and boys felled logs, fastened them together with bark and discarded the rafts on the other side. Except for cornmeal, which they brought with them, they had to live on wild game, berries and anything they could glean from the lands they crossed. As they neared Indian country, the men and boys walked on either side of the covered wagons, with guns loaded, in anticipation of Indians and wild animals. Some nights when they camped, the hills they had crossed were so numerous and high, they could see their own campfires burning yet from the previous night. They came through the Cumberland Gap, passed through Kentucky and, crossed the Ohio River into Indiana. Their teams were so exhausted from climbing hills that they made camp in Orange County, near French Lick, where they rested three weeks before going on. As they proceeded on their journey, the country looked discouraging with so many hills all around them. They had just about decided to return to the blue grass country of Kentucky when luckily a traverler on hourse back came along and told them that farther on west, in Pike County, was an abundance of springs with good water, and pasture as high as his horse's belly. Thus, did a chance encounter change not only the destinies of those involved, but that of generations to follow. With renewed courage they traveled to Pike County, through the early town of Petersburg, and to White Oak Springs. They eventually selected a site for their home and the land grant was signed by President Martin Van Buren. The late Tom Willis lived for many years on that farm, selected so long ago by his great grandparents, who lie buried about two hundred yards south of the old home-place. The area now known as Willisville was at one time the site of a construction camp for Irish workers on the Wabash and Erie Canal. Water is still contained in the old canal bed near Willisville. A few years later a railroad replaced the canal, and rails were laid on the old canal tow-path. A whistle-stop just south of Willisville was called Clark's Station, wher passengers could flag the train and climb aboard. In the 1950's the Flat Creek Association of the General Baptists bought land south of Willisville, for use as a camp ground. Today a business which stocks equipment and ceramic supplies, called Church's Crafts, is located where Floyd and Inez Willis had their store. A barber shop, owned and operated by Wesley Willis, is the only other place of business in Willisville now. There are numerous homes located in the community, with many other families descended from their pioneer ancestors, John or Maxwell Willis.

(I am indebted to Lillie Brenton, Imel Willis, Elma Rauch Plane, Delmas Wyatt and Linda Ferrier who have provided information about their Willis ancestors.)

* Since this was written I have recently heard of a manuscript being written about the Willis families by Mrs Anita (Willis) Powell, of Escondido, California.

This was written by Ruth McCellan and published in "Our People of Pike County" in 1978

I have tried to locate a book by Mrs Anita Powell but have had no luck. Sure would love to have a copy if it was published.



susie4jcba@wowway.com

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