Davis Bottom is named after William “Willard” Davis, an attorney who purchased and subdivided residential lots in what would become known as Davis Bottom. Little was known about Willard Davis, but scholars with the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project discovered that this young attorney was much more than a simple land speculator. Davis was an outspoken civil rights advocate, ambitious Republican politician and admired legal scholar who would rise to the position of Attorney General for the State of Kansas.
William “Willard” Davis was born on January 26, 1837 in Madison County, Kentucky. Some archival records suggest his birth year was 1833. He graduated from Missouri University and Lexington Law School before winning an election to the position of Fayette County Attorney. In a biography written by C. J. Ewing in 1880, Davis says he served in the Union Army during the early stages of the Civil War, but was forced to resign due to “failing health.” Davis became a tax collector for the newly formed Commissioner of Internal Revenue. After the war, he opened a legal office in Lexington, representing railroad companies and several African American organizations.
During this time, Davis also became a land speculator. In 1865, he purchased and subdivided 43 narrow lots along Brisbin Street in the valley that would become known as Davis Bottom. Davis was an outspoken advocate for civil rights. On the Fourth of July, 1867, he presented a powerful speech that decried Kentucky laws prohibiting African American men from voting or testifying in state courts. U.S. Senator Charles Sumner quoted from Davis’ speech during Congressional debates over the Third Reconstruction Act of 1867.
In 1870, Davis moved his family to Neosho Falls, Kansas where he worked as an attorney for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company. He reentered politics, rising to the position of Attorney General for the State of Kansas. William Willard Davis died at the age of forty-seven in Topeka, Kansas on December 7, 1885. He is buried in a family plot at The Lexington Cemetery, less than a mile from Davis Bottom – the community that bears his name.