When the Willis brothers donated land in 1870 to the Great Northern Railroad for a track from Houston to Chicago, the town of Willis, Texas was born. Two key factors — the railroad and fertile land fit for growing watermelon, cotton, and other cash crops including trees for a thriving timber industry — allowed the little community to grow.
In 1891, local Willis residents started growing Cuban tobacco, turning Willis into a hub for the production of cigars and other tobacco products. When the Great Depression hit, Willis suffered from falling demand in lumber products and a sharp decline in the demand for tobacco products. The economy recovered somewhat in the 1931 with the Texas oil boom,when oil was discovered in the area. Through the 1930s and 40s, development of U.S. Route 75, along with the recovery of the lumber industry during World War II, fully revitalized the local economy.
The extension of Interstate Highway 45 through the area in the early 1960s helped integrate the community into a regional economy and provided a corridor through which both industrial and suburban development could begin. From the mid- to late-20th century to the present, agriculture and lumber remain vital components of the Willis economy, along with more recent additions in the retail, service, and manufacturing industries.
Today, straddling I-45 and approximately eight miles north of Conroe, Willis is home to nearly 2,000 households, excellent primary and secondary public schools, and nearby recreation, courtesy of Lake Conroe.
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