Young Henry

Life is a journey

(Source:  Ready to Change Life Coaching Blog, 2014)

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.

Sperry's Department Store

(Sperry’s Department Store, Port Huron, MI, circa 1982.  Source:  Pinterest: Michigan’s Past on #Port Huron, Russell Sawyer picture – property of Port Huron Museum)

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.

Huron Avenue 1857

(Huron Avenue, 1857, looking north from Military Street. Source: The Russell Sawyer Collection: Property of Port Huron Museum)

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.

1859 Map Snip

(Snippets – Business locations of A.E. Noble, M.D. and W.H.B. Dowling Grocery. Source: Library of Congress – 1859 Map of the Counties of Macomb and St. Clair, Michigan)

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.

McMorran Bosford

(Henry McMorran and Frederick Botsford, circa 1860 (Source: Port Huron Museum)

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.

McMorran Arena

(McMorran Auditorium and Arena, n.d.  Source:  Blue Water Wave)

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!


(Connection and Community Source.  Leadership Summaries Blog, 2012)

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:


Lula Petty, Sperry’s Elevator Operator. Source: Pinterest

Anyone else in the community share a similar memory?


Blue Water Wave website (n.d.).  McMorran Arena Blog [Image].  Retrieved from:

Hernandez, J. G. (2012).  We are all in this together.  Leadership Summaries Blog.  [Image – Connection and Community] Retrieved from:

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:

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:

Sperry’s Department Store in Port Huron, Michigan.  Pinterest.  Lula Petty, Sperry’s Elevator Operator, [Image].  Retrieved from:

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:

ThyroidCancerSurvivor (2014).  Life is a Journey, Ready to Change Life Coaching Blog.  Retrieved from:

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:

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:

Jenks, W.L. (1836-1936).  William Lee Jenks papers. Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan (call no.  851594 Aa2).

McMorran’s “Digs” in Washington

Henry G. McMorran served as the US Congressional Representative for the 7th Congressional District of Michigan from 1903-1913 (United States, Congress, n.d.).  While in Washington, he and his family frequently took up residence at The Portland located in the Thomas Circle neighborhood. (The Port Huron Daily Times, 1909 & Detroit Free Press, 1912).

The Portland, circa 1924 (Source: DeFerrari, J., 2016, Streets of Washington Blog)

Built in 1879, it was designed by German architect, Adolf Cluss, and it was originally called The Portland Flats (Williams, P.K., 2001).  In later years, it was known as The Portland Hotel.  It was the first luxury apartment building in Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia, 2009).  It was built by Edward Weston, a retired banker and designed by Adolf Cluss.   Weston’s intent was to build an apartment building for the middle and upper class modeled after the popular “French Flats” in Paris.  This new architectural style was taking root in the United States after receiving noted attention and success in New York.  (National Republican, 1881).  Rutherford Stuyvesant was the man who brought this new housing design to New York.  It is said Stuyvesant visited Paris and admired the apartment buildings so much he decided to elicit the help of French designer Richard Morris Hunt to design the new building for him.  The Stuyvesant was finished in 1869, and the units were rented before it even opened its doors in 1870.  Up until Stuyvesant built The Stuyvesant in New York, some middle-class residents lived in row houses.  However, row houses were not a popular choice due to the stigmatism associated with working class tenement housing and poor design.  The new one-floor plan of the Stuyvesant eliminated the large number of stairs residents of row houses had to climb and created a comfortable space for them to live in. (Gray, Christopher, 2013).

00005v (1)

The Stuyvesant Apartment (Source: Library of Congress)

It was the mass appeal of “French Flat” living in New York that attracted Weston’s attention.  Weston and others interested in the real estate market in Washington D.C. believed this new form of housing could be the answer for those who temporarily took up winter residence in the area (National Republican, 1881).  They were right.  In 1912, twenty years after the Portland was built, Michigan Senators and US Representatives were taking up winter lodging there, including Senator Townsend of Jackson and Representative McMorran of Port Huron (Detroit Free Press, 1912)

A Sketch of The Portland and Thomas Circle, circa 1885 (Source: DeFerrari, J., 2016, Streets of Washington Blog)

The Portland was situated on the corner of 14th Street and Vermont on the southside of the Thomas Circle (Boese, K., 2009).  The neighborhood McMorran called home while in Washington was conceived as part of the L’Enfant Plan, an urban development plan, created in 1791 by Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant for President George Washington.  (Wikipedia, L’Enfant Plan, 2017).  It is marked by a circle in which stands an equestrian statute of Civil War General George Henry Thomas that was commissioned by John Quincy Adams Ward in 1879 (Wikipedia, Thomas Circle, 2017).  According to District of Columbia’s Department of Transportation, circles were used in the L’Enfant Plan to provide a strategic defensive boundary north of the White House (District of Columbia Department of Transportation, n.d.).

1905 Thomas Circle

View of Thomas Circle from The Portland 1905 (Source: Library of Congress)

According to the 1906 Digest of Appropriations for Support of the Government of the United States, there were appropriations specified to pay day watchmen throughout the city.  One of the areas where a watchman was designated was in Thomas Circle neighborhood (United States, 1906).  So, Henry McMorran would have come home after a long day’s work at the Capital in his private horse drawn carriage driven by a coachman over a pair of “Wilkes” steeds he owned and kept in the city for private use to the Portland Flats, a well watched area in town. (The Daily Herald, 1904).  He would have had the luxury of dining with his wife and family in one of the two communal dining halls located into the apartment building.  Or he could have taken the building elevator up to his private apartment suite that most likely included a parlor, dining room, three chambers, servant room, kitchen, pantry, and bathroom.  He would have appreciated a white-walled parlor, carved walnut dining room, and large, glass windows with inside shutters, a small elevator that could be used to send up any necessities he would require, an ash tub made with an iron door to send down his garbage to which a janitor was responsible for its disposal, electric bells throughout the apartment and a speaking tube to communicate his desires to the porter who was located in the basement (Our French Flat, National Republican, 1881).  His “digs” are not too shabby for a small-town boy from Port Huron, Michigan, who started from humble beginnings.


Boese, K. (2009).  Then and Now the Portland Flats. Greater Greater Washington website.  Retrieved from:

DeFerrari, J. (2016).  History of the Portland Flats on Thomas Circle, Streets of Washington Blog.  [Photograph – The Portland, circa 1924 and Photograph – A Sketch of the Portland and Thomas Circle, circa 1885] Retrieved from: and

Detroit Free Press.  “Michiganders in Washington.” (December 8, 1912).

District of Columbia (2009).  District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites.  Retrieved from:

Gray, Christopher.  “Apartment Buildings: The Lastest in French Ideas.” (July 11, 2013).  Retrieved from:

National Republican.  Our Real Estate, The Condition of the Market:  An Interesting Interview with Several Prominent Dealers, New Features in Architecture, Washington as a Winter Residence,  An Active Spring Predicted (January 8, 1881).

National Republican.  Our French Flat (March 18, 1881).

The Daily Herald.  Brown City Banner Editor Accompanies the Michigan Newspapermen to Washington (Feburary 9, 1904).

Wikipedia (2017).  L’Enfant Plan.  Retrieved from:

Wikipedia (2017).  Thomas Circle.  Retrieved from:

Williams, Paul, K. (2001).  The Neighborhoods of Logan, Scott, and Thomas Circles.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.

Library of Congress.  [Photograph – Thomas Circle from The Portland, 1905 and Sketch -The Stuyvesant Apartment].  Retrieved from: and