We have all heard the expression “Life is a Journey”. As we progress through our lives, this sentiment truly begins to morph from a mere saying into a true feeling. During my examination of Henry McMorran’s life, this feeling of journey and the passing of time holds steady in me. The process of putting together the pieces and parts of a person’s life from an historical perspective makes me personally reflect on my own life and serves up a large slice of inspiration pie.
I wanted to take a moment this week to reflect on the boyhood of Henry McMorran. There is not much information written about him as a young man, but if one looks close enough you can catch a glimpse of Henry’s youth contained within the odds and ends of what is available. It is a view that must be pieced together but well worth the research effort.
If you grew up in Port Huron and remember Sperry’s Department store, I ask you to do me a favor before you read further. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in Sperry’s. How old are you? Are you inside or outside the building? Hold that picture in your mind and feel that memory. How does your memory make you feel? Now let it go and smile. This space like many others in the Port Huron area is unique because of the memories we hold of it. What is also unique about this space is that there are people who came before us who have memories of that space as well.
Henry had memories there. In fact, he was born there on June 11, 1844 to Robert W. McMorran and Isabella Kewley McMorran. Back in 1844, it was known as the corner of Huron and Butler Street, it was considered a part of the Village of Port Huron, and Henry’s home stood there instead of a department store (The Port Huron Times, 1905). Lots of variables as to description, but the same space nonetheless.
As a boy, Henry attended the Crawford school. Some of his schoolmates included: H.W. Stevens, John Atkinson, William Campfield, Watson Beach, George W. Howe, Bernard O’Rourke, and Henry Kingsley (The Port Huron Times, 1895). The Crawford School was taught by Alexander Crawford, and children came from all over the area to attend. Mr. Crawford taught his school in the Old Brown school house from 1844 until 1858. William Lee Jenks describes Alexander Crawford as “a stern disciplinarian, but possessed of the faculty of instilling a desire to learn, he attracted pupils to his school, and impressed them strongly.” (Jenks, W.L., 1912).
Bernard O’Rourke, who attended the school with Henry in 1855, remembers “Our family lived in the Township of Kimball, St. Clair County at that time and good schools in those days were wanting. My father took the opportunity of sending me to Port Huron to attend school. Mr. Crawford was a teacher that thoroughly understood his business and was what you might call a first-class teacher in those days. I remember well a rod of correction he kept by his desk for certain purposes. It consisted of a round piece of rattan about thirty inches long and one half an inch in diameter. I think some of the old school boys remember it also.” I think Jenks was right, Mr. Crawford did leave a strong impression on his students. Bernard’s recollection perfectly paraphrases a childlike version of Jenks’ description of Mr. Crawford (The Port Huron Times, 1895).
In 1855, the schoolhouse was located in an area of property at Huron Avenue and Broad Street. By 1859, this area became a park and by 1895 it was serving as the location of the county court house and jail. Today, Broad Street is known as McMorran Boulevard, and the McMorran Auditorium and Arena stand on this property (The Port Huron Daily Times, 1895). The school would have been conveniently located for young McMorran to walk to as it was just a block north of his home.
Robert McMorran, Henry’s father died in 1855. This tragic event ended his education and Henry went to work to provide for his family at the age of 11 in a jewelry store doing odd chores for a few years. It is my approximated guess that Henry worked for Alonzo E. Noble in his jewelry store.
After his time at the jewelry store, Henry went to work as a cash boy at the age of 13 for W.H.B. Dowling in his general store. He earned $10.00 a month for his labor. What follows is a newspaper article that showcases a recollected exchange between W.H.B. Dowling and a young Henry at 13 and at 15.
“About six months afterward, he called the boy and said to him, ‘Henry, I want you to go down stars [stairs] and check off some new goods that have just arrived. Mark the regular percentage on it for profit.’ Henry went downstairs, and, never having received any instruction in arithmetic, concluded to look up [at] Mr. Dowling. ‘I guess I’ll have to quit Mr. Dowling’, he announced. The good merchant was amazed. ‘Quit’, he exclaimed. ‘What for?’ ‘Well’, explained Henry, ‘I’m not very good at figures and that job you gave me is too much.’ ‘Now is the time to learn,’ remarked Mr. Dowling. ‘Go ahead and do as I told you.’ Henry then took a friendly clerk into his confidence and soon learned to figure the percentages and went ahead; afterward reporting his success to Mr. Dowling. When McMorran was 15 years of age Mr. Dowling said to him: ‘Henry, my bookkeeper has left me. I want you to take charge of my books.’ ‘I don’t know a thing about bookkeeping Mr. Dowling,’ he replied. ‘You had better get somebody else. I’ll mix the books all up.’ Mr. Dowling insisted and Henry took charge of the books and remained in that position until Mr. Dowling went out of business in 1860.” (The Times Herald, 1902).
Thank goodness Henry had such a good role model and mentor in Mr. Dowling. As we all know, his efforts would not be wasted on the boy! I have to admit I could not help but chuckle when I first read the examples of Henry’s boyhood presented here. I love the fact that I get to see Henry when he is most vulnerable and full of the self-doubt of youth. If I have learned anything through this process, I will have to say it is this……….
Life is indeed a journey to which we as individual’s never quite experience in the same way or manner as those who come after us. The imprint we will leave on this planet is happening as we live, it forms our own unique timeline whether we know it or not, and it is discoverable long after we are gone for someone else to pick up and enjoy.
As a researcher, I can view Henry’s life journey as a whole and draw inferences about it that he could not and would not ever have been able to draw while he lived. I can view his life through a lens that enriches and adds value to that journey and to my own as well. I can recollect my own memories of spaces such as Sperry’s Department Store and McMorran Auditorium. I can draw comfort from him knowing he had recollections of the same spaces that I do and that such a successful man experienced self-doubt within his life too. A connection forms from these realizations. It screams to me that I am not alone. We have all traveled the same path at one point or another.
When Henry attended the Crawford School, he would not have had the ability of anticipating that one day an auditorium and arena would stand on the same site where he attended school. Not only would this auditorium and arena stand in this place where I imagine he played and messed around with his friends as young boys do, but it would bear HIS NAME. It would serve as a tribute to all his successes as a businessman, his dedication to the progression of the City of Port Huron, his contribution to the United States, the State of Michigan, and the St. Clair County region as a congressman, and most important of all, it would be built and dedicated by his two daughters, Emma and Clara, because of their memories of his dedication to his family as a loving and devoted father. Chew on that for a moment!
When you live in a small town commonalities are born among the people who live there that revolve around people, places, and things. I think one of the most wonderful aspects of small town living is talking to someone and not having to explain a certain area or place. They just know it as you do. You can see it in their eyes they get exactly what you are talking about. It is there within that moment a connection is made. A connection that binds us as a community. It makes me feel amazing that I have memories of the same space that I know a man born 173 years ago has memories of too (perhaps you feel the same). While time may change spaces, it cannot change memories. Sometimes, we have to find them, but they remain. To me, that sort of amazing feeling exemplifies the power of history.
BY THE WAY, when I think of Sperry’s, I always recall how much I loved to ride the elevator while my grandmother shopped. So, my memory is easily depicted in this photograph:
Anyone else in the community share a similar memory?
Blue Water Wave website (n.d.). McMorran Arena Blog [Image]. Retrieved from: http://bwwave.com/mcmorran-arena/
Hernandez, J. G. (2012). We are all in this together. Leadership Summaries Blog. [Image – Connection and Community] Retrieved from: http://jesusgilhernandez.com/2012/12/31/we-are-all-in-this-together/
Library of Congress website ( n.d.). Map of the counties of Macomb and St. Clair, Michigan. Philadelphia : Geil, Harley & Siverd, 1859, N.Y. : R. Pearsall Smith, Map Manufacturer [Image]. Retrieved from: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4113m.la000344
Michigan’s Past on #Port Huron (1982). Pinterest. Sperry’s and JCPenney in Downtown Port Huron [Image: The Russel Sawyer Collection – property of Port Huron Museum]. Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/98868154297609257/
Sperry’s Department Store in Port Huron, Michigan. Pinterest. Lula Petty, Sperry’s Elevator Operator, [Image]. Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/472315079651497104/?lp=true
Port Huron Museum. McMorran-Murphy Collection (74.1.125). [Image – Henry McMorran and Frederick Botsford, circa 1860].
The Port Huron Daily Times. Congressman Henry McMorran (July 15, 1905).
The Port Huron Daily Times. Henry McMorran: Sketch of the Career of the Republican Candidate for Representation in Congress (October 21, 1902).
The Port Huron Daily Times. In the Old Days: A Letter to the Editor from Bernard O’Rourke (April 4, 1895).
The Port Huron Daily Times. Olden Times: When Alex Crawford Taught the Village School (March 29, 1895).
Rootsweb Ancestry website (2008). Port Huron in Pictures and Collections: The Russell Sawyer Collection [Image – Huron Avenue 1857 Looking North on Military Street]. Retrieved from: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~miporthu/index_PHPictures.htm
ThyroidCancerSurvivor (2014). Life is a Journey, Ready to Change Life Coaching Blog. Retrieved from: https://thyroidcancersurvivor.wordpress.com/tag/ready-to-change-life-coaching/
Jenks, W.L. (1912). St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 339, Dr. Alonzo E. Noble. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=SkEVAAAAYAAJ
Jenks, W.L. (1912). St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 273, Alexander Crawford. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=SkEVAAAAYAAJ
Jenks, W.L. (1836-1936). William Lee Jenks papers. Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan (call no. 851594 Aa2).