William McKendree Carleton, known simply as Will was born in the wilds of southern Michigan, on the edge of Lenawee County on October 21, 1845. As a young lad Will worked hard on the family farm, but had a love of learning and a quick mind that led him to write poetry writing while attending the district school in Hudson. Will entered Hillsdale College in 1862, but had to return home the next year to help on the farm, due to his brother Henry going off to the Civil War. He would not be able to return to return to college for three years because he needed to help on the farm. While there he taught school near his home, working at the same time to increase his own breadth of knowledge .
In September of 1865 Will returned to Hillsdale College to work toward completion of his degree. Will began reading newspapers and eventually got paid to write for them too. He also began visiting the Poorhouse, located on the edge of town. There he listened to the stories told by the residents, many of them old and abandoned by their families who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) care for them at home. Will’s famous poem, “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse,” which he later said almost wrote itself, was the result of those conversations. In all Will wrote twelve books of poetry, prompting Michigan to confer on him the honorary title of Poet Laureate. He died in 1912 as one of the nation’s most respected and widely read writers and lecturers.
Hillsdale didn’t forget Will. In February of 1926 residents of Hillsdale’s Railroad Street petitioned City Council to have the name of their street changed to Carleton Road. In 1987, when the Hillsdale County Historical Society received the deed for the Poorhouse on Wolcott Street from Bob Evans Farms, they honored Will by naming it the Will Carleton Poorhouse. Today a local charter school is named Will Carleton Academy.
Carol A. Lackey