|A grand Victorian-style home of west Morris (B.W. photo)|
Monday, July 15, 2013
Streets of west Morris seem a step backward
I got to remembering the slogan Sunday (7/14) as we made our weekly jaunt through west Morris. We visit friends at West Wind Village. It's no routine matter driving from Pacific Avenue to WWV. We finally decided our usual street was no-go. So I looked for an alternative street. Not much better if at all. The solution will probably be to avoid Pacific Avenue completely. We can get on Park Avenue from the highway or from West 5th Street.
You may be aware that many of the streets in west Morris are in just awful shape. They are so deteriorated, they hardly seem like paved streets at all. Potholes are a ubiquitous annoyance. You have to slow to a crawl. You steer frantically as if you're trying to avoid land mines. You feel concern for the condition of your car as you cover such terrain. Indeed, it practically seems as though "the pavement ends" as you leave Pacific Avenue (and go west).
Pacific itself has never been a prize-winner of a road. Morris was originally set up for Pacific and Atlantic to be co-equal. The plan was similar to how Benson turned out. Morris backed away and settled on Atlantic Avenue for the heart of the business district. This isn't to say west Morris didn't have its attributes or its heyday. Going back over a century, west Morris was actually associated with great prosperity. The status of Pacific Avenue was apparently not a factor.
West and east Morris came to have nicknames based on their perceived level of prosperity. I have always been a little puzzled hearing about this chapter of Morris history. First we had the nickname "Piety Hill" which denoted the west. It grew out of the fact the three English-speaking churches got established there. These were the Congregational Church, the Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church. I'm a little puzzled because I don't notice anything like a hill in west Morris. Perhaps the term was just grabbed out of pragmatism.
Along came a fellow named John House, a successful implement dealer, who lived on the east side. He decided we needed a dichotomy. If the west was "piety," well then let's call the east "poverty." Hence, "poverty hill." There is a much more discernible hill on the east side than west. The old public school capped the elevation. That old school, now home to pigeons and Lord knows what else, is set to be razed any day now, I guess. It's about time. I told Bob Welle of Fergus Falls Monuments that I hope he isn't downwind when it happens.
Welle's business occupies the old Stark's Grocery. I told Mr. Welle that Stark's is where I obtained most of my once-massive baseball card collection. A fellow sold that collection on commission for me in the 1980s for a considerable amount of $. The baseball card market has deflated because of saturation. I bought my cards as a kid (a nickel a pack which included a hard stick of gum) with no thought to them becoming collectibles. We were always looking for Twins of course (like Zoilo Versalles).
So, east Morris was once "poverty hill." Not the kind of nickname you'd like to bandy about a lot. I'm reminded of Burlington IA which has a park called "Mosquito Park." (Maybe they've changed it by now.) There was an element of jest in offering a term like "poverty hill."
Seriously, there was an element of competition between east Morris and west Morris. I sense nothing of the sort today. I just think there ought to be grave concern about the state of many of the streets of west Morris. Maybe horses will become the more practical means of transportation there.
The early days of Morris saw the so-called Yankees (not to be confused with the baseball players) settle on the west side. They attended those three English-speaking churches. The Congregational Church was located across from the Carnegie Library. That church is now gone, and the library is now the museum. The more recent European immigrants settled on the east side of Morris. They attended churches using their native languages or the Catholic Church which used Latin for worship.
"Status" accrued from living on the west side. Morris was home to several members of the state legislature in those olden times. All opted for "Piety Hill" (west) as their home neighborhood. Let's recall who these distinguished gentlemen were: Representatives J.D. Good, H.H. Wells and L.C. Spooner; and Senator E.J. Jones.
The "Yankees" had natural advantages. We can also call them "old-stock Americans." They had no special adjustments. English was already their language. They in fact established the culture that others had to adapt to. These Yankees had their origins from England or the British Isles. Some even had a family tree going back to the Mayflower. I believe former Morris mayor Lee Swanson can trace his lineage back to that seminal settlement.
The Yankees of 19th Century Morris respected Puritan ethics. They largely set cultural standards. The east side got the original courthouse which had an auditorium. The likes of Ignatius Donnelly and Knute Nelson gave addresses there. Donnelly gave us the dream of "Nininger."
The late 19th Century, which stood as Morris' first chapter, wasn't all work and no play. There were lawn socials, whist parties, formal dinners and dancing through the night! Civilization was quite possible without cable or satellite TV, or Facebook either for that matter. We read of a gala open-air party that included a hundred Japanese lanterns.
Oh, but the adversity in those times could be ample. I wrote recently about the grasshopper invasion of 1876, from the perspective of both Morris and Cold Spring. "Rocky Mountain grasshoppers" were sheer invaders. Oh, there were blizzards. Prairie fires too. Nevertheless, Morris residents in the 1880s began putting up large and quite opulent homes. I wrote recently about one such home, likely the most noteworthy old home in Morris: the home (originally) of Lewis Stanton. Yes, it was in the "Piety" (west) side of town, along Park Avenue which in those days was the most grand drive in Morris. Another significant early home was that of farm implement dealer A.A. Stone.
The prosperity of that time owed itself partly to the good reputation of the Morris school, we learn. The Lincoln School was an early school in Morris. Click on the link below to view a picture of it from the Minnesota Digital Library.
I attended the school called "Longfellow" on the west side (grades 1-3). It was there I was informed of the assassination of JFK. Word came from my third grade teacher Lillian Peterson, now Lillian Ehlers, who has been blessed by living over age 100. She lives at West Wind Village and we often see her to say hello and to chat.
The Morris newspaper of the 1880s made note of all the budding developments. It made note of the building boom. Also, of that "splendid school." And, the "various church accommodations." The paper lauded our town for its "desirable society and good police regulations." And then there's this sentence: "We were going to say fourthly the good condition of our streets, but we guess we won't."
I guess we won't in the year 2013 either.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org