Willis T. Parr (pictured here) was born in Canada in 1852. His parents were Thomas Parr (born in Ireland about 1817) and Mary Gillett Parr (born in New York about 1815).
Thomas and Mary lived in Brighton, Northumberland, Canada in 1851. Shortly after Willis’ birth in 1852, the family immigrated to Salem Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan. By 1856, Willis’ father Thomas had applied for Naturalization at Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In 1862, Willis and his parents had moved to a farm in Superior Township, which was also in Washtenaw County. Superior no longer exists today. The town was located near Ann Arbor.
Willis was 11 years old in August, 1862. His father enlisted in the Civil War. Thomas was then 45 years old and served in the 17th Michigan Infantry, Company E, one year when he was discharged due to general debility.
Thomas came home from the war in the summer of 1863. It is not known how long the Parr family remained in Superior after the war, nor how long Thomas lived after his service. In the 1870 Michigan Census, only Mary and Willis are listed in Crockery Township, Ottawa County. By that time, Willis was 18 years old and owned a considerable amount of property there.
On January 28, 1877, Willis Parr married Mary Elizabeth Van Woert, at Burns Township in Saginaw, Michigan. He was still a resident of Crockery Township. Shortly there after, Willis took his new wife, Mary Elizabeth and his mother Mary and moved north to Manistee, Michigan. Willis worked in Manistee as a shingle sawyer and his mother (Mary Parr) worked as an Astrologist.
Mary (Gillett) Parr died on April 7, 1878, in the City of Manistee. It is not known how long Willis and his wife Mary Elizabeth remained in Manistee. Several of their nine children were born there.
Their nine children were as follows:
By 1900, Willis and Mary had built a farm in Durand, Michigan, located in Burns Township, Shiawassee County. Sometime later (before 1910), Willis purchased a Sawmill at McNeil Island Precinct, Pierce County, Washington.
My assumption is that Willis purchased a sawmill outside the state of Michigan either due to a persistent lumber workers strike or the rapid depletion of timber in Northern Michigan.
Three of Willis’ sons, Fred (photo lower right), Philetus, and Lavern were living in Washington (and working at the mill) with him by 1910. Willis would travel back and forth from the mill in Washington to the farm in Durand. While he was working in Washington Willis wrote several letters to his wife and children who were living in Michigan.
Originally the Washington sawmill was called Parr, Norgren and Company. For about 20 years it was quite an extensive operation. The name may have changed later because by 1920 Willis’ two oldest sons Frederick and Philetus owned the sawmill. In 1920, Willis was still working at the mill as a carpenter.
Sometime between 1927 and 1929 Willis’ sawmill burnt to the ground and never rebuilt. Willis died in 1939 at the age of 87 and is buried in Washington. His wife Mary died sometime before he did and is buried at Lovejoy Cemetery in Durand, Michigan.
The family members who knew Willis remember him dearly. They describe him as a hardworking man with a big heart and a great sense of humor. Many of his descendants live in the states of Washington and Michigan today.
If you think you may be descended from my Parrs feel free to drop me a line or two via email! ~ Deborah Malafronte.
I’d also like to share with you what my husband Albert is doing while I’m doing family researching.