In the early 1880s, it was a new station on the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and the post office moved from Mission Centre on June 14, 1882. The railroad was completed to Willis on August 15, 1882. It was soon a thriving young town with several enterprising citizens who did a good deal of business. It had two handsome churches, several stores, and several fine residences.
Gift & Zimmerman, wagon and carriage makers and general blacksmiths, was established in September 1882 by C. William Gift and Edward Zimmerman. Another business established that year was the firm Chapman & Kipp, owned by J. W. Kipp and N.E. Chapman, dealers in general merchandise, groceries, boots, shoes, etc. Lester M. King and Albert D. Small, the proprietors of Small & King, were contractors and builders.
Elevator No. 1 was opened on November 1, 1882. Built for $6,000, it had a storage capacity of 20,000, an additional storage capacity of 25,000 bushels, and a working capacity of six to seven cars per day. The building was owned by the Farmers’ Elevator and Mill Company. This company shipped grain to various points, including 50,000 bushels of wheat, 30,000 bushels of corn, and 2,500 bushels of small grain of all kinds.
The Methodist Church church building completed at Mission Centre in the fall of 1882 was moved to Willis in March 1883. It was then entirely renovated and remodeled and had a seating capacity of 300. The dimensions of the building, including a stately corner tower, were 28×50 feet. It also had a Sabbath school with a good-sized library and a membership of 80 scholars and 10 teachers.
The First Presbyterian Church was erected in the summer of 1883. It was a frame structure measuring 30 x 50 feet, with a stately corner tower and a seating capacity of 200. It was built for $3,000. Soon, there was a prosperous Sabbath school connected with the church.
By 1910, Willis was an incorporated city of the third class. At that time, it was still a station on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. It had a bank, several general stores, telegraph and express offices, and an international money order post office with one rural route. The population in 1910 was 188.
In 1912, a large brick rural high school was built in Willis. The town’s population peaked in 1930 at 217.
In the following years, the town did not grow; its population declined, and its post office closed on January 31, 1960. Willis High School graduated its last class in 1965.
Today, Willis still displays a couple of old business buildings, homes, a grain elevator, and several silos. The former high school is in a state of decay and has crumbled in on itself. The area is still called home to about 35 people.
Willis is east of U.S. Highway 73/159 between Horton and Hiawatha.
Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
Cutler, William G; History of Kansas; A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1883.
Willis, Kansas Memories