This chapel was named in memory of the Reverend Albert G. Willis on the site where he volunteered to give up his life for a fellow soldier, one of the famous Mosby Rangers. This happened on October 14, 1864.
The construction of Willis Chapel was brought about by the missionary efforts of the late Joseph Reid. The church was started as a Sunday school in a little one room school house way up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Flint Hill. Later a church was built near the school house and was called Shiloh Methodist Episcopal Church South.
In 1914 the quarterly conference of the circuit ordered the moving of the Chapel from the original site, and the placing of it on the pike, as there were quite a lot of people from that area! This was done during the time of the Pastor Rev. A. P. Williams. The name was then changed to Willis Chapel, and concerning the change there is quite an interesting history.
During the Civil War, a deserter from the northern army was met near Flint Hill by some of Mosby’s men, who being under the influence of whiskey accosted the man, some words were exchanged and the deserter was killed by the Confederate soldiers. They then threw his body in a nearby grove, the property of Col. Thomas Settle of Flint Hill. Mosby’s men, still somewhat intoxicated, went on through the village telling the story of what they had done, and of course, the news soon spread.
In the meantime some passer-by had seen the body of the dead soldier and had notified Col. Settle, and he and his wife had gone immediately to the scene and after wrapping the body in a blanket, had quickly buried it.
A little later a detachment of federal soldiers was passing through the Village, and hearing through some sympathizer, perhaps, of the killing of one of their men, they swore vengeance upon the ‘rebels’ even though their man was a deserter. Soon they came upon two of Mosby’s men and captured them. One of these soldiers was a young Baptist preacher, whose name was Albert G. Willis. The yanks declared they would kill one of the men in retaliation of the death of their comrade, and compelled the men to draw straws and thus decide who was to die. The companion of young Willis drew the fatal straw, and he immediately became greatly distressed, declaring that he was not ready to die and that he had five young children dependent upon him.
Then the young Christian warrior, Willis, stepped forward and surrendered his life, saying he was ready to die and had no one dependent upon him – a marvelous instance of a great love, for ‘greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for a friend’.
To do honor to such a hero, Joe Reid and his noble wife busied themselves, and the Willis Memorial Church stands today not only a monument to Chaplain Willis memory, but also a memorial to the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Reid, without whom the church would never have been built.
The church completed, Mrs. Reid, without the assent of her husband wrote to President Hoover, and in graceful terms, dwelt upon the President’s great interest in the mountain people of this section. She gave a brief history of the church, the reason for its construction, and presumed to ask him for a contribution.
By return mail came a contribution of twenty-five dollars, from the President, with a most gracious letter, in which he said that as soon as he could have one of his secretaries to do so, he would have him look around Washington for a bell. In ten days the bell arrived at Front Royal, expressed prepaid.
Joe Reid was a wood-carver of great artistic skill and merit, so in recognition of the President’s most gracious benefaction, he sent him a cane cut from the woods surrounding his summer home on the Rapidan and the master-piece of all his productions. On the cane is carved, running from the handle to the ferrule, the following verses:
“Late afternoon yet the day’s not ended, the western sun shines brightly as of yore. Not yet upon the worker has descended, the night that gently whispers, ‘work no more’. Still let us labor, tho with strength diminished until the tasks assigned us, one by one are faithfully performed, the lesson finished, and resting we may hear the works, ‘Well done’.
Now called The Willis Chapel United Methodist Church, the church stands today not only a monument to Chaplain Willis’ memory, but also a monument to the efforts of the late Mr. and Mrs. Joe Reid, without whom it may not have been built.