“PRESERVING OUR PAST”
Wills Point is on U.S. Highway 80, 50 miles east of Dallas in northwestern Van Zandt County. According to some accounts it was first named Iola but was renamed when it was discovered that another Texas town had already chosen the name; however, some documents indicate that a postmaster had been appointed for Wills Point before the 1873 completion of the railroad nearly a year before the Iola post office in Grimes County was established. Other sources indicate the community was laid out in 1873 by an engineer for the California Construction Company and named Iola by Maj. William H. Abrams, land commissioner for the Texas and Pacific Railway. The name Wills Point or Wills Place is from the family of tax assessor William Wills and from the shape of the timberline that jutted out onto the prairie near Wills’ home. The Wills Point post office was established on September 23, 1870, with Thomas White as postmaster, replacing mail delivery from Canton via Bradfield’s stage line. Wills had arrived in the vicinity around 1846 and began building his double log cabin, now considered the oldest house in the territory. In July 1856 Wills purchased from the state 320 acres on the Dallas-Shreveport Road, built corrals, kept supplies, and furnished his log cabin as a resting place for travelers at the site. Another old home, belonging to Thomas J. McKain, who settled at Wills Point in 1873 and became the town’s first mayor, express and freight agent, and an employee at its first store, was also still standing in 1990. Citizens of the prosperous town held a county election on May 16, 1877, to move the county seat from Canton to Wills Point. A vote of 705 for the change and 523 against failed to obtain a two-thirds majority required to transfer the county seat. Wills Point claimed election fraud, and the violence that followed required the assistance of the state militia. On July 2l, 1884, Wills Point became the first Van Zandt community to incorporate. Wills donated land for the White Rose Cemetery, and by 1896 the town had five white and two black churches, three public schools, the Wills Point Institute, hotels, cotton gins, a large public hall and opera house, the Chronicle, and the headquarters of the North Texas Land Company. Local farmers shipped cotton, hides, grain, hay, livestock, and fruit. A population of 1,000 in 1892 rose to 2,500 by 1928 and declined to 1,976 in 1941, when the community had 120 businesses. In 1988 Wills Point had a population of 3,125 and eighty-eight businesses. The population was 3,496 in 2000. By the middle of the twentieth century the town was known for its wild roses, elms, and pecan trees. It is also known as the “Gateway to Tawakoni” for its access to the Lake Tawakoni State Park and was designated “Bluebird Capital of Texas”. Wills Point’s historic district has brick streets, a railroad depot museum, and the original Wills log cabin.
The Rose Monument – Intersection of WN Commerce St. & N. 4th St.
The structure in the center of N. 4th is the Rose Monument. I.E. Rose, the younger brother of B.W. Rose, followed his brother here. He stayed in Wills Point before going to Dallas where his ventures in real estate and other businesses proved profitable. Mr. Rose remembered Wills Point fondly for what it had done for him and his family, and expressed the desire to give something to the town that would be a source of civic pride. Along with the mayor, city council and Mr. Rose, the monument was selected. The monument has tiers of basins for plants, a center projection that extends to a height of about 12-15 feet and attached to the projection are four light posts.
The Depot – Highway 80 & N. 5th St.
Texas and Pacific railway built the brick depot in Wills Point in 1927. It was the last brick depot built From Dallas to Marshall for the T&P. Mr. Ollie Webb, an officer of the T&P railroad was impressed with Wills Point and saw to it that a brick depot was built. This is the cities 3rd depot. The first was in the Middle of 4th street.
Wills Cabin – E.N. Commerce St. & 3rd St.
The log cabin in Bruce Park is the original residence of William Wills, the founder of Wills Point. Bruce Park is made to look like the stage stop would have looked in 1848, when the Wills Family ran it. The buildings are replicas of the buildings, which might have been on their property. Bruce Park was created in 2000. It was the brain storm of H. R. Craft, JR and he was the main person behind its Construction with the help of the Wills Point Historical Society and numerous donors. The pavilion located in Bruce Park was donated by the Wills Point Chamber of Commerce.
Caboose – Hwy 80 & 4th St.
The Caboose was given to the city in 1990 after Union Pacific Railroad discontinued use of these on their trains. Texas and Pacific railroad, the original railroad that came through Wills Point, was bought by Union pacific. When the city let out use of the Caboose to the Historical Society, the club refurbished the Caboose as one of the Texas and Pacific Railroads.
White Rose Cemetery
The cemetery began with the burial of William Wills on family land in 1864. Wills’ widow, Mary Ann (Phillips) set aside 8 acres here in a grid pattern and sold lots for community burials. Although the graveyard was known as the Wills Point Cemetery, in 1874, the White Rose Cemetery Association was formed to maintain the grounds. In 1886, Mary Wills retained the family burial plot and deeded the remainder of the graveyard to the Wills Point Cemetery. The association fenced the grounds and erected a gate with a connecting fence. To the right is the headstone marking the sight of William Wills burial plot.
The Cartwright School – 315 Bertha St.
The Cartwright School was the first school for blacks. The provision for the school was made over 100 years ago. Originally, the unnamed school was located on N. Wills Street. Professor Needham Wright was the first teacher, teaching children during the day and adults at night. Cedar Grove students and teachers were moved to the school when their building was destroyed by fire and the school was moved to the south side of town. In 1927, the students in grades 1-8 were moved to the public school due to overcrowding, then in 1966, the entire school was de-segregated, and Cartwright was closed.