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Willis Historical Society advocate for preservation,
new use for historic Home
By Sondra Hernandez

Photo courtesy of Sue Ann Cargill Powell
The Bower/Cargill home at the corner of N. Thomason and Martin Luther King Blvd in Willis. It was purchased in 2015 by the First United Methodist Church in Willis, which is across the street. Discussions are still underway as to what to do with the home. it was constructed in the late 1890s.

In late 1800s, the up-and-coming city of Willis boasted a college, an opera house and vast tobacco fields that supported seven cigar factories.

Now, all that’s left to mark the site of the Willis Cigar Factory and its mark on the tobacco industry is a brick historical marker.

It reads in part “Tobacco grown in the area was of the highest quality and won international awards in Chicago and Paris,” according to the marker.

The same is true of the Willis Male and Female College, located at Rogers and Thomason streets. It was founded in 1888 when coeducation was rare.

A historical marker remains on the grounds of the current Willis ISD but the building itself is gone.

A group with the Willis Historical Society is advocating to preserve one of the few remaining standing historic structures in the area — The Bowers/Cargill Home.

About the Bowers/Cargill Home

The home is located at the corner of North Thomason Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Willis.

“This uniquely Victorian-style house, with its octagon-shaped front room (gable) and welcoming front porch, was built in the late 1890s,” according to a narrative of the house provided by Sue Ann Cargill Powell, native of Willis and member of the Willis Historical Society.

It was the home of Minnie Powell Bowers who moved into the home in 1920 as a young bride after marrying Capt. Albert Bowers on May 20, 1920. Bowers was the second-to-last child of Dr. William Pentecost Powell who was a member of the Fifth Texas regiment of John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade in Virginia when the Civil War broke out.

For Sue Ann Cargill Powell, the historic home holds many happy memories.

Bowers was her great aunt and Powell recalls spending much time there when she was young while her mother, a teacher, was getting her master’s degree.

She’d play her violin for her great aunts and great uncles at the house and always enjoyed the home’s peaceful back steps where she’d often study as a college student.

“There was a block in between us, but it was empty,” Powell said. “If I could see Aunt Minnie’s bonnet, which meant she was picking strawberries, I’d ride my bike and cross over the lot to get some strawberries.”

Photo courtesy of www.countygenweb.com/txmontgomery
A photo of the Bowers/Cargill House in March 198 when Inez Barkley Elmore and Rosamunde Stewart id an oral history interview with Bowers

Bowers lived in the house up until her death in 1979.

The home was left to Powell relatives, first Jesse Porter Traylor, her nephew, and at his death it became the home of Robert Lee (Bob) and Lennice Cargill, descendants of Bowers’ sister Josie, according to a narrative of the house.

While the Cargills lived in the home, it housed some pieces of furniture that survived the 1900 hurricane in Galveston. Those pieces where a part of Lennice Cargill’s family collection.

In 2015, the house and lot were sold to the First United Methodist Church of Willis across the street from the home. The church itself has a long history in the community being established in the 1870s.

Powell’s sister-in-law Lennice Cargill lived in the house until 2015, when it became too much for her to maintain and that’s when it was sold to the church.

What’s next for the home

According to Dr. Nathan Hodge, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Willis, the church currently has no plans for the property.

He said the church has been in discussions with members of the Willis Historical Society on how the house may be used.

He noted there’s nothing official as far as what the church will be doing with it.

Powell and others in the Willis Historical Society would like to see the home become a museum to house memorabilia from Willis’ past.

Another Willis Historical Society member, Jan Dial, would like to see the home become a social center for the community’s seniors and suggested a possible partnership with the nearby Thomas Chapel UMC for their activities and senior fellowship.

Dial does not see the historic home being moved to another location and said to move it would problematic and cost prohibitive for the historical society.

Powell too would like the home to remain in the Willis area.

“I care about the community of Willis,” said Dial, who has been a part of the First United Methodist Church of Willis her whole life. “Whether the church were to make use of the property or whether we were able to retain it as a museum, it’s only going to add to not only the aesthetics of Willis, but maybe as an encouragement to some of the values of the past and learning the lessons that history has taught us over the years.”

Dial said she feels like people just simply do not pay attention to history in this county.

“Some people maybe would say that it’s not important and they’re entitled to their opinion,” she said. “But I think it’s important. History, and both the stories and the facts and the symbols including homes and buildings, have still got value to use both practically and ethically. As an environmentalist, I really do not like to see us waste these sort of things.”

Both Powell and Dial’s worst fear is that the home can’t be moved, or used by the church, or by the historical society, and that it will be torn down.

The city of Willis has not been officially asked by the Willis Historical Society for anything regarding the care-taking of the Cargill home, according to a statement from Willis City Manager Hector Forestier.

“We have been told that the Methodist Church has obtained the property and are looking for a place where it could be relocated within the Willis area,” Forestier said. “An initiative of this nature will have to first be presented to the Community Development Board for their assessment. Any recommendation(s) reached by this Board will have to be presented at City Council for final approval.

“The final approval will be determined based on what, if any, property belonging to the City may be available which can be used for the purpose intended and what resources will be provided by the historical group to operate and maintain the facility.”


Conroe Courier

April 10, 2016



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