Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Willis Family Papers, 1863-1902

Finding aid created by
Catalina Oyler, June 2008

Summary Information
Title: Willis family papers
Creator: Willis, Milton, b. 1833
Inclusive dates: 1863-1902
Bulk dates: 1882-1889
Extent: 96 items
The Willis family papers consist of correspondence from family members in Battle Creek, Michigan and Washington, D.C. to Milton Willis about family matters and business.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1999. M-4048.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Processing Information:

This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Willis Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is organized chronologically.


Henry Willis (1800-1886) was a Quaker, businessman and leading citizen of Battle Creek, Michigan. He was involved with various Railroad companies in Michigan including the Grand Trunk Railroad, he also ran a nursery, and was involved with waterworks, brick manufacture, and lumber. Henry married Hannah March (d. 1834) and with her had three children, Isaac, Lydia, and Milton (b. 1833). After Hannah’s death Henry married Phoebe Mott (d. 1890) and had two more children Henry M. and Edward.

Milton Willis moved to San Francisco and worked for the City Rail Road Company. He married Mary S. Jones (b. 1830) and stayed in communication with his family through letters. Henry M. and Edward moved to Washington, D.C. and their mother joined them after the death of her husband.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Willis family papers consist primarily of letters sent to Milton Willis from his father, stepmother, and siblings. Letters from Milton's sister Lydia describe her life in Battle Creek as well as news and gossip about acquaintances, she also frequently mentions her work keeping house, and various illnesses of her and her father. The letters from Henry Willis to his son also mention health and disease frequently, as well as Henry’s business plans, including trying to set up a water system for the city of Battle Creek. Henry’s letters reflect his Quaker background and he often uses the words “thee” and “thou.” The letters from the family in Washington also concern general family news and possible business prospects, though Phoebe occasionally writes about goings-on in town and the social engagements of the president.

The collection also contains a telegraph informing Milton of Phoebe’s death, Milton’s calling card, a few business letters, and a few letters written to Milton from friends in Battle Creek. Many of Henry Willis’s letters are on Chicago and Grand Truck Railroad stationary, the envelopes of which include a print of the Railroad line from New York to Chicago, through Michigan.

Subject Terms

    • Battle Creek (Mich.)
    • Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway Company.
    • Diseases.
    • Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada.
    • Health.
    • Waterworks.
    Genre Terms:
    • Telegrams.
    • Visiting cards.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1  
    Willis family papers,  1776-1902 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Biographical Review of Calhoun County, Michigan. Hobart & Mather, Chicago, 1904.