Emerson M. Willis, who served with high credit as district attorney and is now in the active practice
of law at Utica, was born at Columbia, Herkimer county, New York, February 27, 1874, a son of Marcus D. and Mary
J. (McCormack) Willis. The Willis family came to America from England and Jane Lewis, the maternal grandmother,
was a native of Wales. The grandparents on the paternal side were born in New York state. Grandfather John McCormack
was in Virginia at the opening of the Civil war and was given thirty minutes in which to join the Confederacy or
leave the community in which he was living, also leaving his property behind him. He came north and enlisted in
the Union army in which he continued until the close of the war. He was captured and was for a time confined in
a Confederate prison. After the expiration of his service he located at Waterville, New York, never returning to
the south to reclaim his property. The father of our subject engaged in farming and for about thirty years past
has made his home at Bridgewater.
Emerson M Willis was reared on a farm and received his preliminary education in the country schools. Having decided
upon a professional career, he matriculated in the law department of Union University at Albany and was graduated
with the degree of LL. B. in 1894. He then entered the office of Josiah Perry of Utica and in 1897 was admitted
to the bar. He remained with Mr. Perry until 1898 when he was appointed attorney for the sheriff's office, which
position he held for nearly a year, but resigned to accept an appointment as assistant district attorney. He served
in this capacity through two administrations and attracted such favorable attention that he was elected district
attorney and assumed office January 1, 1905, being reelected in 1907. During his period of office he disposed of
a number of important cases among which were the graft cases which ended in the imprisonment of several persons.
Another case of unusual interest was that known as the Gulf Murder Mystery. Mr. Willis succeeded in ferreting out
the guilty man and sending him to the electric chair. While in office Mr. Willis was especially noted for economy
in administration and expeditions trial of cases, two factors of great importance to taxpayers and to all who are
interested in the effective administration of public affairs. On the 1st of January, 1905, Mr. Willis associated
with J. De Peyster Lynch in the practice of law under the title of Lynch & Willis, now one of the leading law
firms of Utica. Mr. Willis has had two recent calls from the people of Oneida county to serve in public office.
The first request was that he should become a candidate for justice of the supreme court in 1909, while the other
urged him to allow his name to be used as a candidate for congress in 1910. The petition in the latter instance
was signed by more than three thousand voters. He was a candidate in 1901 before the convention in the Fifth Judicial
district for justice of the supreme court and had the unanimous support of Oneida and Herkimer counties, but owing
to the fact that Oswego county was not represented on the bench the nomination was given to that county. Since
he has respectfully resisted all efforts urging him to reenter public life. He is interested in a number of important
cases now pending in the courts and possessing marked natural ability and a wide knowledge of law, is one of the
leaders of the Oneida county bar.
On the 28th of June, 1899, Mr. Willis was united in marriage to Miss Julia E. Penney, a daughter of Giles A. Penney,
of Unaclilla Forks. Two children have blessed this union: John D., who was born April 20, 1901; and Marjorie E.,
born March 28, 1906. Mr. Willis is a stanch adherent of the republican party and is regarded as one of the most
effective campaign speakers appearing upon the platform in this part of the state. He is clear and forcible in
his utterance and has few superiors in carrying an argument to a logical conclusion. He is a safe counselor and
as a lawyer ranks with the best at the Oneida county bar. He has a host of friends who place implicit confidence
in his judgment and integrity and prophesy for him a brilliant and highly successful future whether in public life
or as a practitioner of law.
History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Oneida County, NY
For all your genealogy needs visit Linkpendium