This account is based on U.S. Census records, word of mouth from family and friends, and reasonable suppositions. It is by no means inclusive of all information on the subjects, and is not meant to leave anyone, or any relevant fact, out. I hope to share some of my family’s history in the beautiful historic city of Acworth.
Willis Street has been a narrow, meandering street through Acworth for many years, perhaps more than 150 years. But how did the street get its name? The answer is deeply rooted in the history of Acworth, and fond to the descendants of the family.
I live on Dewberry Circle, along with my wife, Suzanne Ivie Willis. I grew up in Acworth, not the city proper, but north of town and went to school in Acworth. I only ventured as far away as Powder Springs, but returned to the city to live more than five years ago.
This story starts in the early 1800s. Samuel Robertson (1802-1885) and his wife, Celia Martin Robertson (probably 1805-1876), both of whom are buried in the Northcutt-Pyron walled cemetery, near Thomasville Drive at the edge of the Acworth Mills/Coats and Clark property, were some of the settlers of the area. Samuel Robertson was an Acworth City Commissioner prior to the Civil War. This pioneer couple had, by some accounts, up to 16 children, including a daughter named Celia.
Celia Amanda Robertson was born in 1837 and died in 1913. Early records indicate that she married a young man, who was born in North Carolina, had lived in the Blairsville area, and migrated to Big Shanty, where he served one year as Postmaster at Moon Station from 1855-1856. His next stop was Acworth.
That young man was Abel Willis (1832-1909). Abel purchased land from Smith Lemon in 1855.
Abel Willis and Celia Robertson married in 1859, and later lived on Willis Street, thereby giving the stretch of unpaved city street its name (The 1910 Census calls the street Willis Avenue).
The couple lived in Acworth during a most trying time for the entire country. They had a son, William Mays Willis (1861-1914), who lived in the Acworth area his entire life.
During and after the Civil War, Abel Willis wrote letters to one of his brothers, Andrew Jackson (A.J.) Willis, who migrated to the Kansas territory. My son, Jayson Willis, and I had the privilege of getting a copy of some letters from a descendant of A.J. Willis, during a visit to Salina, Kansas, in the late 1990s. It revealed the emotions and sense of uncertainty of the times in Acworth.
Abel and Celia Willis acquired a farm in south Bartow County. They worked the farm together. They had a daughter, Della Willis (1877-1956), when their son was about 16 years old. Celia Willis later returned to live on Willis Street, and Abel stayed at the farm.
In 1885, Abel and Celia Willis were divorced. Their daughter, Della, was approximately 8 years old, and stayed with her mother in town. The divorce agreement required that Abel leave his assets to his daughter upon his death. His will was never changed, even with Della reaching maturity and marrying Johnny O. Davis.
Upon the death of Celia Willis in 1913, her property assets were left to the daughter, Della Willis Davis.
A small stipend was left to the son, Mays Willis. He was the only son to carry on the Willis name. Mays Willis married Annie Banks (1872-1936) in 1886. They had 10 children, including nine daughters (Della, Susie, Bertie, Beulah, Julia, Nina, Lucille, Goldie, Effie) and one son, Henry Grady Willis (1890-1940).
Descendants of those 10 children live in the Acworth area. Henry Grady Willis, known by most as Grady, was my grandfather. Since he died at the young age of 50, I never met him.
He married Larah Bennett (1890-1971) in 1910. They also became the parents of 10 children.
The only surviving children of Grady and Larah Willis are Harold Willis, a long-time resident of Baker Road, and Sallie Willis Kennedy, a long-time resident of Hickory Grove Road. Their son Donald Grady Willis (1925-2016) was my dad. He married my mom, Julia Allene Grizzle, in 1949, and had twin sons, my brother Danny (married to Rhonda Hicks Willis) and me.
Many descendants of Abel Willis and Celia Robertson Willis live in the Acworth area. My grandson is the proud namesake of forerunners of our long-time Acworth family. His name is Samuel Abel Willis. He was born in 2015 to my son, Jayson Willis, and his wife, Megan Greenway Willis, who live on Lakewood Drive in Acworth.
By Dennis Willis
Janice Smith Walker says
Wow so interesting! My name is Janice Smith Walker. My dad is Jimmy Grady Smith (1936-2001). He is the grandson of Larah Willis.
Janice Smith Walker says
He is the grandson of Henry Grady Willis.
Jim Magus Saltarella says
Which home did Abel Willis live in on what is now Willis Street? Is their house gone now, or was the one of the two houses that were joined to create what we refer to as the McClure House at 4544 Dallas Street? The McClure house was two houses that had been built prior to the Civil War and were said to be occupied by Union soldiers in 1864 and thus the two houses were spared the torch. Abel and Celia were apparently renting out their home (at least that appears to be the case in 1882) after they moved to their farm in Bartow. When they divorced in 1885 she apparently moved back to the house with their daughter while he stayed at the farm,
Samuel Robertson says
Thanks for the great article.. I am a descendant of Celia Amanda Robertson Willis via her parents Samuel Robertson and Celia Martin. I believe my twin brother Jim and I have corresponded with you in the past..
Celia Martin’s father was Charles Martin who died in Cass County in 1844-45.
Samuel and Celia along with 2 children (George T. and Martha A.) who died at 4 years and 20 Years respectively.. There is no entrance to this 4 grave area.. I believe it was built first and the Northcutt-Pyron cemetery used one of it’s walls. When we visited several years ago vandals had been in the area and it was overgrown with poison ivy and large saplings. We bought some tools and herbicide and cleaned it as best we could..
Celia Amanda Robertson Willis is buried in Liberty Hill Cemetery along with but not next to her ex-husband Abel Willis.
Jim Robertson says
Thanks for this snapshot into your ancestor’s and my 2nd great aunt Celia Robertson’s life. Like my twin brother Sam, I was in e-mail contact with you in the past. You sent me photos I had never seen. The first one I ever saw of Celia Amanda Robertson. Another that was a cardboard with oval photo that was marked Celia Robertson. I am not sure if it is of Celia Amanda or her mother Celia Martin Robertson. You sent me another you said was marked “Robertson Home Place”. It had several women, 2 kids and one man standing spread all over the yard. I wish I knew what street they had lived on.. So nice for others, like you, that share family history!
Since I exchanged e-mails with you, Sam and I found our gg grandfather Samuel Robertson’s parents – William Robertson (1771-1803) & Jane LKU) of Franklin Co., GA. Son Samuel had been the administrator of his brother William, Jr. will in 1847.
James B. Robertson