Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Let's step into the Wayback Machine for Morris MN
"I've been working on the railroad"
Leonard O'Koren designed the logo for the 1971 Morris Centennial. He put an emphasis on railroad tracks. Flowers sprouted to represent the city of Morris.
"Morris" is a nice name that rolls off the tongue. Imagine if the name was "LeSeuer" and you constantly had to explain how to spell it.
Our city was named for Charles A.F. Morris, chief engineer of the St. Paul and Pacific, forerunner of the Great Northern Railway. Mr. Morris is reported to have nailed the sign "Morris" to the new railroad station when the railroad came through in the summer of 1871. The railroad was totally transformative. Previous to that, the setting here was what you'd find in a Louis L'Amour novel. We had the Wadsworth Trail that brought folks through these parts en route to Fort Wadsworth (later to become Fort Sisseton). The railroad opened a whole new chapter.
Come to think of it, even with the laying of tracks, L'Amour probably could still spin some tales!
Our family experienced the railroad ourselves in the early 1960s. The University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus of our still-new institution went west in 1962 and east in 1964. They glided along the rails. My late father Ralph E. Williams was director. The chorus sang at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 and New York World's Fair in 1964. I was along in 1964. My first contact with an African-American was with a "porter" in a train out east. Nice gentleman. My dad was a UMM founding faculty member.
The man who inspired our town name, that Mr. Morris, never lived here, but a son, A.P.H. (Jack) Morris had a drugstore here for several years. We appreciate those early settlers who must have dealt with adversity. We were a "tent town" at the start. The U.S. Civil War had ended just six years earlier. Some war veterans settled here and formed the Overton Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the equivalent to our modern-day VFW, Legion and AmVets.
Significant early Morris event
The Eul's Hardware building is conspicuous in a photo taken of the Corn and Alfalfa Show in December of 1913. The show was a touchstone event in our early history. Its truly grand symbol was the "alfalfa arch." Many people posed around that arch in the photo that includes the Eul's building at right. The building looks just as it does today.
The Corn and Alfalfa Show was on December 10-13 of 1913 under sponsorship of the West Central Minnesota Development Association. It was December but the weather was quite un-December-like. Remarkably mild weather prevailed. So mild, "overcoats were conspicuous by their absence," an account read. "Many men walked the streets in their shirtsleeves."
Today we'd look at those conditions and see this as evidence of global climate change - extreme weather.
The Corn and Alfalfa Show in 1913 was staged to accent how Minnesota is in the corn belt, how diversified farming "is the better farming," and to generally improve living conditions here. "It definitely played a part in the changing agricultural picture," read an account in the Diamond Jubilee publication for Morris.
The iconic alfalfa arch was huge. An authentic-size replica was built for the 1971 Morris Centennial, and a large photo of that can be seen on the wall at Willie's Super Valu. For a few years in modern times, the Morris FFA would construct a small replica along East 7th Street for Prairie Pioneer Days. That practice has been discontinued. It's important we remember the grand original alfalfa arch.
Thousands of people from all over Western Minnesota attended the 1913 show. A special train on the morning of the last day brought 1200 people from Pope County! More than 200 Minneapolis businessmen came out on a special train for one day.
The automobile arrives
Can you imagine life without cars? The transition from horses to cars must have been fascinating to watch. Many people thought at first that cars would only complement horses and not totally replace them. It is hard to conceive of any mode that is ingrained into our lives, completely disappearing. We saw the ice business disappear.
A good movie to watch to try to envision the early cars is "The Shootist," John Wayne's last movie. At the end he pauses to observe an early "horseless carriage." It's symbolic. The Wayne character represents the old rough-hewn model for living - he's in fact a gunfighter. Wayne's character is dying of cancer. He's heading for a gunfight that he knows could spell the end of his life, and could thus spare him the spasms of pain lying ahead for him.
Early Morris residents Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Fowler probably owned the first automobile here, an Olds of reported 1901 vintage. At that same general time, a Haynes model of 1902 was sported around, coughing and wheezing no doubt, by Dr. and Mrs. J.W. Harris. We learn that the Haynes vehicle was the "Old Betsy" to everyone in Morris, "the pride of her owners but considered a public nuisance by many," we read in the Diamond Jubilee publication.
"Old Betsy" spelled nuisance to the townspeople "especially if they happened to be driving a team of horses when it came along."
Dr. Harris reported that he stopped as many as ten times on a seven-mile trip to lead horses by his gas buggy. Surely there were no seat belt citations issued then!
That old Eul's building on Atlantic
Eul's Hardware is the oldest building on Atlantic Avenue. The newspaper at the time of its construction, 1883, called it "a monument of architectural beauty and mechanical skill."
Today the Eul family sees hardware customers there, their experience in the profession rich. We all miss "Rit" (Richard) Eul who once plied his considerable skills there. He was also fire department chief. (He wasn't particularly enamored with the local police!)
The building was erected for First National Bank, a new institution then. The bank included the former Bank of Morris. The corner entrance had five large Kusota stone steps leading up to it. The 50 foot long carved cherry counter was from a Stillwater firm.
Linoleum was new then! The floor inside the counter and railing was covered with this product. The linoleum was manufactured from ground cork and linseed oil. The ceiling and sides of the walls were "frescoed."
Alas, the First National Bank failed in 1896. May of that year saw Citizens Bank pick up the torch with the building, led by Alexandria interests. Citizens Bank stayed there until 1936. Citizens then moved to the location familiar to the boomer generation, where Morris and Associates (accounting) now holds forth.
We all remember Ed LaFave Jr. of Citizens. Ed was among the activists ensuring that the WCSA campus would find new life. New life indeed! It's the University of Minnesota-Morris. The LaFave House is named in honor of his family.
Euls move into building in 1940
The grand old building of main street went through various phases of business activity until in 1940 it came under ownership of John Eul. He put on an addition in 1947. I gather the townspeople called him "Johnny."
Richard "Rit" Eul took over the hardware business from father John in the 1960s. The children of Rit and Ione had many friends among the boomer generation of Morris kids. I graduated from high school with Mike Eul in 1973. Mike did not join the family business, opting for a career elsewhere. I gave him the heads-up for the Bill Chase band reunion concert in St. Paul several years ago. We met and had fun conversing at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul. It was on that night that the bridge fell into the Mississippi River. We were not gawkers. We took in the whole concert and only occasionally glanced up at a TV screen to get some snippets of updates on the bridge disaster. It was interesting how undistracted the audience really was.
Mike and I were trumpet players under director John Woell at Morris High School. John was a bit of a taskmaster which reflected his generation. He actually was able to fine us "a quarter" for misbehavior. He'd point and say "you. . .a quarter." I think school policy would shoot that down today.
Woell was director for the last few years when MHS had its marching band heyday. Eventually these summer marching band programs faded everywhere or became very challenged. Kids were finding other things to do in summer like sports camps. Sports always wins out, doesn't it? Shall we back off a little on that? The starting time of the recent Morris Area jazz band concert was moved a half-hour later, unbeknownst to me, because of sports. A pox on sports!
What do I think of marching band? Musically I don't think it's enriching, as musicians play the same tune over and over. It's just the benefit of a structured activity, building the kids' sense of self-discipline. A few schools can still cut it with marching band, like Litchfield.
The Irondale marching band from the Twin Cities visits here annually in summer to practice. Irondale isn't your father's marching band. It performs routines and material quite unusual and exotic. I'm impressed although I wouldn't pay to hear music like this. This coming summer, let's see better promotion for the Irondale marching band's evening exhibition/demonstration at Big Cat Stadium. It's free. Don't give them the idea to start charging.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org