Watson & Willits
The well known firm of Watson & Willits is composed of James Arthur Watson and Oron B. Willits, energetic business men of De Kalb, who well deserve mention in this volume.
James Arthur Watson, the senior partner, was born in Paw Paw township, this county, May 9, 1872, a son of Edward M. Watson, whose birth occurred in Oswego, New York, May 20, 1847. The mother, Mrs. Anna (Hare) Watson, was born in Illinois, September 10, 1849, and they were married in Paw Paw township, February 22, 1871. The father was a farmer by occupation.
The family numbered four children, of whom James A. Watson is the eldest. He was educated in the common schools of De Kalb and completed his course in the high school at Leland, La Salle county, Illinois. Subsequently he engaged in teaching for one year, after which he began clerking in a general store at Shabbona for M. F. Spoor. On the 13th of June 1895, he came to De Kalb and entered the dry-goods store of A. E. Atwood, being employed as a salesman for nine years, his long continuance there well indicating his thorough reliability and trustworthiness. On the 1st of February, 1904, he became manager of the McCallister Dry Goods Company of De Kalb, and on the 20th of January, 1905, he embarked in business on his own account by purchasing the store of his former employer, Mr. Atwood, and conduction the enterprise until it was destroyed by fire on the 10th of January, 1906. On the 15th of February following he entered into partnership with Mr. Willits and the relation has since been maintained, the firm soon gaining recognition as proprietors of the leading business house of this city.
Mr. Watson is a member of the Knights of Pythias lodge at De Kalb and in politics has been a stalwart republican since age conferred upon him the right of franchise. He is also a member of the First Congregational church and his life has been actuated by high and honorable principles and worthy motives.
On the 27th of May, 1896, in Aurora, Illinois, Mr. Watson was married to Miss Margaret M. Mahaffy, who was born at Hinckley, Illinois, June 30, 1872. Her father, John Mahaffy, was a native of Ireland and came to America at the age of nineteen years. He married Martha Brant, who was born in England and in early life crossed the Atlantic to the new world. This marriage was celebrated in Washington county, New York, and Mr. and Mrs. Mahaffy came to Illinois in 1869, settling near Sandwich, De Kalb county. There were ten children in their family, of whom Mrs. Mahaffy [Watson, sic] was the eighth in order of birth, and three of the number are now deceased. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Watson has been born a daughter, Martha Ruth, whose natal day was November 9, 1899.
Oron B. Willits, the junior partner of the firm Watson & Willits, was born in Mercer county, Illinois, November 5, 1873. His parents were John Burns and Amanda E. (Boyd) Willits, both natives of Wayne county, Indiana, born in 1832. The father’s birth occurred on the 4th of July of that year. They removed to Mercer county, Illinois, prior to the birth of their son Oron and the father there followed the occupation of farming until his life’s labors were ended in death. His widow is still living. In their family were five children, of whom two are now deceased.
Oron B. Willits, the youngest of the family, completed his education in the Aledo (Illinois) high school and then entered business life as a salesman in a dry-goods store, being thus employed for four years. On severing his business connections in that town he accepted a clerkship at Mason City, Illinois, where he continued for one year, when he embarked in business for himself at the same place, conduction his store for a year. On the expiration of that period he returned to Aledo, where he clerked for four years, and later he took charge of a store at Elmwood, Illinois, where he continued for fifteen months. He then came to De Kalb on the 1st of June 1905, and was engaged in clerking here until the 10th of January, 1906, when he entered into partnership with Mr. Watson and the relation has since been successful and pleasantly maintained.
On the 27th of June, 1900, at Mason City, Illinois, Mr. Willits was married to Miss Daisy B. Hartzell, who was born in Mason county, this state, a daughter of Oliver C. and Ella (Gairy) Hartzell, the former a native of Pennsylvania,. There were three children in the family, of whom, Mrs. Willits is the second. She is a member of the first Presbyterian church of Mason City, Illinois, and both Mr. and Mrs. Willits are well known socially in the city, the hospitality of the best homes being cordially extended to them. In his political views Mr. Willits is an earnest republican.
The firm of Watson & Willits is doing business at No. 157 East Main street and carries a full line of dry goods and ladies’ ready made apparel. They now have a large annual trade, carry a complete stock and well merit the success which is attending their efforts, their sales amounting to about forty thousand dollars per annum. The partners are both men of good business ability, whose intelligent and well directed labors are bringing to them gratifying prosperity. [Past and Present of De Kalb County Illinois, Lewis M. Gross, Pioneer Publishing Co., Chicago, 1907, Vol. II, p306-7.]
Submitted by Terry Todd