Charles Willard of Battle Creek, Michigan, USA

August 10, 2015

This story begins with an old picture postcard.

Willard Memorial Library Battle Creek

Willard Memorial Library Battle Creek

I’d come across it while just browsing around, “the Willard Memorial Library, Battle Creek, Michigan” it said.[1]

The library itself is still an active institution and the very supportive staff helped me link the benefactor after whom it is named to a family already in my surname study:[2]

  • Charles Willard was the namesake of the library; he had a brother named George; they were sons of Allen.Charles Willard, born 24 April 1827 in Vermont USA – died 31 Jan 1897 in Battle Creek township, Calhoun county, Michigan USA. He was 69 and unmarried.
  • George R Willard, born 20 March 1824 in Chittendon county, Vermont USA – died 26 March 1901 in Battle Creek, Calhoun county, Michigan USA. He was 77, married twice with 4 children.
  • Allen Willard, born 10 Feb 1794 in Hartland township, Windsor county, Vermont USA – died 7 February 1876 in Battle Creek township, Calhoun county, Michigan USA. He was 81, married twice with only the two sons.

My study had quite a bit of detail on Allen and his son, George, but nothing beyond the bare “born April 24, 1827; died married January 31, 1897” for Charles.

From the library’s pamphlet file came a retrospective write-up on Charles:

“Charles Willard, bachelor-farmer, capitalist and public benefactor, whose name is perpetuated here in the Willard Library and Willard Park, was born 131 years ago today in Vermont.   

His parents, Allen and Eliza (Barron) Willard and their two children, George and Charles, in 1836 were among the earliest settlers at Goguac Lake. Their western trip was by way of the Erie Canal[3] and Lake Erie to Detroit and then to Battle Creek by ox team.

Erie Canal, 1840

Erie Canal, 1840


Allen Willard Migration

Allen Willard Migration

It was a highly cultured and literate family. The father had attended Dartmouth and before coming west had been a teacher, proficient in Latin and Greek and a lover of literature and the Bible. The eldest son, George, also a scholar of Latin and Greek, became an Episcopal rector and later the longtime publisher and editor of the Battle Creek Journal.

Charles Willard received his education from his father, which was equal to that of a college graduate. The mother of the two sons died on June 29, 1838, only two years after their arrival here. In 1842, Allen Willard married Mrs. Laura (Harris) Vedder, daughter of the pioneer pastor, the Rev. John Harris and the widow of another pastor, the Rev. Levi Vedder.    

After the family located on the valuable property along the eastern shores of Goguac Lake, Charles Willard lived on the farm and labored there for more than 60 years. There he won prosperity by old-fashioned industry, good judgment and stolid perseverance. He was recognized for years as a capitalist whose integrity, like that of his father and brother, was never questioned.

In his later years, Charles Willard took a great interest in the welfare of his home community. He had participated in various business enterprises which included the Advance Thresher Company in which he held $125,000 in stock and served as a director of the company.    

At the time of his death here at 69 on January 31, 1897, Mr. Willard left many sizable bequests in his will. Some of his benefactions had been bestowed previously, however. About a week before his death he had deeded 16 acres of woods on the eastern shore of Goguac Lake to the city for a public park.[4] This is the area, since expanded, which serves the community as a delightful outing place and includes Willard Beach.

Willard Park Battle Creek

Willard Park Battle Creek

Although Mr. Willard was not identified with any religious group, his benefactions included liberal gifts to the Baptist Church. Two years before his death, he was given a reception on November 6, 1895 at the First Baptist Church in recognition of his gift of the Willard Memorial parsonage… Mr. Willard’s benefactions included bequests to his family, $37,500 for the erection of a public library; $37,500 for a YMCA building in Battle Creek; $30000 for professorships in Latin and literature at Kalamazoo College and substantial gifts to the Michigan Baptist Association, and a fund to aid poor students attending college. His estate was estimated at approximately $250,000.”[5]

Very interesting material and I was glad to add it to my files. Exploring further, though, brought me a puzzle. Find-A-Grave has entries for Allen Willard and both his wives, and both sons. Allen and Charles are buried in Dubois Cemetery, southeast of where the farm on the shore of Lake Goguac was located. George R. Willard is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, in the city of Battle Creek.

The Find-A-Grave record for Allen Willard gives his father as “Levi Willard,”[6] which was a surprise to me. There is no indication of where this paternal name came from. Perhaps I had conflated two different Allen Willards?

Allen Hays Willard is to be found in two of the Willard genealogies[7] and they both show his father as Titus Willard (b. c1764-d. c1798) of Vermont and that he himself had two sons, George and Charles. I found Allen’s birth record,[8] which corroborates the two genealogies, and it asserts he was the son of “Leah and Titus Willard”. (This is the only record I’ve found with the interesting spelling “Allyn Hays Willard”.)

Sometimes Find-A-Grave contributors get their information from County History books. Because Charles’s brother George R. became involved in politics, there is a nice big write-up on his family in Charles Moore’s 1915 “History of Michigan”. Allen Willard’s grandfather (and other illustrious forebears) is named therein, but not his own father.[9] The other books I’ve seen go into less detail, naming only Allen, George, and Charles.

Most reassuring to me was the fact that the details given in the genealogies and the history books make it clear that the Allen Hays Willard in my study was the father of Charles Willard who helped establish the Battle Creek Library. And this was the same as the “Allen Willard” buried in the Dubois Cemetery.

Possibly the Find-A-Grave contributor was confused by the fact that Allen Hays Willard had a “brother” by the name of Levi, (according to the genealogies), who stayed behind in Vermont? In any case, I’m now confident that the lineage in my study is the correct one, that I had “not” conflated two men, and that the namesake for the library in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA is properly linked. And I’m extremely happy that a chance discovery of an old picture postcard resulted in a wealth of detail on a man of whom I’d hitherto known little.

Karen Willard
Member 1258


[2] email from George Livingston, Local & Family History Librarian, <> “The benefactor and namesake of our library is Charles Willard. He was the brother of George Willard… Their father [was] Allen Willard.”



[5] Enquirer and News, issue of April 24, 1958, held by the Willard Library-Battle Creek branch, Pamphlet File.

[6] Find A Grave Memorial #65763084 created 17 February 2011 by abs

[7] Charles Henry Pope, editor, Willard Genealogy; Sequel to Willard Memoir (Boston: Willard Family Association, 1915) p250 and, Lorene J. Lyon, compiler, and Ruth H. Willard, editor, Descendants of Henry-2 Willard of Still River, Massachusetts, Based on The Willard Genealogy, 1915 Edition of which this is the Second Supplement (Hartford: Willard Family Association of America, Inc., 1989) p139.

[8] Vermont Births and Christenings 1765-1908, consulted at

[9] Charles Moore, History of Michigan Illustrated, Volume III (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1915) p1656


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