View all items
The Willis Collection is a collection of photographs by two brothers, Alfred T. Willis and Henry Willis. Alfred was a commercial photographer in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the early 1900s until 1945. Most of the images of Spartanburg and the surrounding areas are by Alfred. Henry was a photographer for the Armed Forces, also in the early 1900s. He was a member of the 1st Aero Squadron, the first aviators to be trained by the military. Most of the airplane photos are by Henry Willis when he was stationed in California and Texas.
These photographs were found in 2003 by Elizabeth Fowler, the daughter of Alfred Willis. The original negatives were cleaned and digitized by Steve Fincher Photography. The negatives, digital files and prints were given to the Spartanburg County Public Libraries for storage and preservation. A small sample of this collection is shown on the Library's website.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Henry Willis, Jr., son of Robert Henry and Jessie Willis, was born in Williston, South Carolina in 1886. He was the first honor graduate of the Citadel in 1908. Henry Willis became interested in aviation in 1912 and learned to fly in San Diego, California. In December 1913 he received a Military Aviator's Certificate from the War Department. In August 1917 Willis was commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson as Lieutenant in the United States Signal Corps, and in February 1918 as Major of Infantry.
Henry Willis died by accidental discharge of a pistol near the city of Remiremont, France, on September 13, 1918. His father received a letter from General John J. Pershing who had recently appointed Willis to be Chief of Air Service at the Headquarters of the Seventh Army Corps. General Pershing praised the service of Henry Willis as an aviator and as an army officer.
In 2005 Steve Fincher Photography received the Friends of the South Carolina Libraries Business Award. Steve Fincher Photography was nominated by the Friends of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries for its contribution in preserving "the priceless pictorial history of Spartanburg." Steve Fincher and assistant Carroll Foster were involved in the preservation project for over 2 years.
An exhibit, Willis, "Lost and Found," was presented by Steve Fincher Photography and the Spartanburg County Public Libraries in June 2005. The firm donated 70 photographs from the exhibit to the Headquarters Library.