In life we all get our start somewhere. In most instances, that start begins with experiences and connections we share with people. Henry McMorran’s start is no exception. As I discussed in an earlier blog, Henry worked for W.H.B. Dowling as a clerk until his business closed in 1860. During the Civil War period from 1861 to 1865, Henry went to work as a clerk for two men, John Stillson, who was engaged in the lumbering and mail stage business in Brockway & Port Huron, and Myron Williams, who is known for having been heavily involved in the lumbering and vessel building trade in the Marysville area with his son-in-law, Nelson Mills, starting in 1850. In 1862, Myron sold his interest in the lumber mills to Nelson and focused entirely on his vessel business.
Henry developed a strong personal bond with Dowling, Stillson, and Williams. By 1865, Henry was poised to open his own business, a grocery store, which he named H. McMorran & Co. The location he chose to place this business was on Commercial Street. The property on which it stood was owned by Williams and Dowling. Henry’s ownership of this store is the root that grew to shape his business life.
H. McMorran & Co.
In November of 1865, Henry purchased a one-quarter interest in Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east side of Commercial Street from W.H.B. Dowling for $825.00. At this time, the east-side of Commercial Street was in downtown Port Huron along the St. Clair River front and ran parallel with Merchant Street.
This area was best known in local circles as “The foot of Butler.” The property included a wharf which fronted McMorran’s store. The business started out as a wholesale and retail grocery business where Henry sold supplies to vessel owners and residents. When Henry started his grocery business at the foot of Butler in 1865, James Moffat had already been running a ferry and tug business on Commercial Street, at the foot of Sarnia, since 1851. By 1854, George E. Brockway was running his tug business on Commercial Street in the same location as Moffat. At this time Brockway and Moffat started purchasing vessels together.
While most written accounts of Henry’s early days only speak to his operation of a grocery store, it is well documented that by 1866, Henry was also selling insurance and operating a vessel business with Myron Williams at the foot of Butler. In 1866, Henry is listed as a claimant in two lawsuits involving claims against ship owners he had provided ship chandlery and vessel towing services for.
The first suit was filed August 16, 1866, in the United States District Court in Detroit against the Barge “Dart”. The claim filed by Henry and Myron amounted to $35.00 for towing services performed by the tug “Tawas” for the barge “Dart” from Port Huron to Detroit on July 22, 1866. Interestingly, the “Tawas” was a steamer built in 1864 by Myron Williams in Marysville.
In the second suit filed December 8, 1866, Henry and Myron were again listed alongside other creditors of the schooner “Caledonia.” In this case, their claim was for a larger sum of $1,866, plus interest for ship chandlery services, wherein Henry had provided furnishings for the schooner at Port Huron in October of 1866. The United States District Court in Detroit ordered the schooner Caledonia to be sold at public auction in Port Huron on January 15, 1867, to pay the debts of the creditors listed in the lawsuit.
The year 1866 is also important in Henry’s personal life. It was on October 29th that he married the love of his life, Emma C. Williams. Coincidentally, Emma was the daughter of Myron Williams and Mary Gallagher. The ceremony was officiated by William H. Stein, Minister of the Gospel in Marysville. The witnesses to his marriage were Emma’s sister, Hannah Williams, and Henry’s friend, Henry Batchelor. Mr. Batchelor was the son of Jacob Batchelor, who was known as a lumbering business tycoon in Port Huron and later Saginaw. It is Jacob Batchelor who left a special bequest in his Last Will & Testament to the city of Port Huron to erect a Soldiers Monument. This monument still stands in Pine Grove Park today.
I read a neat piece on the Wm. Soutar Collection, from Friends, 1871-1878 owned by Lynn Secory, recently highlighted in a blog from the Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association. One of the letters discussed in the collection was written by Henry Batchelor. Henry McMorran is briefly mentioned in a letter as well. Being that my research on Henry McMorran has led me to do extensive research on the Batchelor family, I was delighted to see the letters emerge. What a contribution to Port Huron history and to those of us who research it! I find the collection fascinating, and I thought it worthy of a mention here.
In 1868, Henry purchased his second one-quarter interest in Lots (24), (25), (26) & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street from Myron Williams for $1,800. This purchase made him an owner of one-half of the property on which H. McMorran & Co. stood. As McMorran’s little grocery business at the dock grew, other businesses came to the location. This business area eventually became known in the community as “The Dock” or “The McMorran Block.” Other businessmen on Commercial Street included tug agent and vessel reporter Mr. Daniel Lynn, ship ticketing agent John W. Thompson, shipping freight agent J.E. Botsford, shipping and commission broker Theo R. Wright, ship broker insurance agent Erwin Carrington, and sailmaker D. Robeson.
In 1872, George E. Brockway moved his tug fleet office over McMorran’s storehouse. After Brockway moved in to the storehouse, Henry started buying vessels with Moffat and Brockway. These vessels were used for commercial shipping and towing purposes. One of the vessels he owned with them was the tug, George E. Brockway.
This business relationship helped Henry expand his ownership of the property in the Commercial Street area as well. In 1872, he purchased lots (18), (19), (20), and (21) on the east side of Commercial Street, south of his store, for $900.00 from George E. Brockway. Henry’s longstanding relationship with James Moffat is an interesting one. These two men were connected by family ties, which I will discuss in a later blog.
Henry soon found himself in the coal business down at the “McMorran Dock.” He sold this fuel source to both vessels and the public. By 1874, he was outbidding his competition and landing contracts with the city waterworks board. It is also in 1874 when Henry purchased the remaining one-half interest in lots (24), (25), (26), and (27) from Myron for $15,000, and his business was said to be “booming.” Henry’s purchase history of these lots over a nine-year span is representative of the value of his businesses on Commercial Street. To think the value of his first property purchase for which he paid $850 had grown by nearly eighteen times when compared to his last purchase for $15,000. It is no small wonder Henry was noted in the community as being one of the most prominent businessmen, having one of the largest businesses in the area. In 1877, it was disclosed he was averaging sales of $1,000 a day, roughly $350,000 annually. That was no small sum he was earning. Today, his sales of $350,000 annually would equate to roughly $8,835,000 a year.
The Entrepreneur Emerges
From 1865 to 1878, in addition to operating his businesses at the dock, Henry also became involved with other business ventures and served as a leader in the community. He was an original stockholder involved in the organization of “The Port Huron Times” newspaper in 1869. He served as an Alderman for the City of Port Huron in 1867 and as elected Treasurer in 1876. In 1872, Henry became an original stockholder, trustee, and first Vice-President of the Port Huron Savings Bank. Upon the death of Daniel B. Harrington in 1878, he became its President. Henry started a lumber transportation business in 1873 with his brother-in-law, Nelson Mills, known as “The Mills Transportation Company.” Henry served as Vice-President for this company.
In 1874, Henry purchased the old Linabury flour mill, on the east side of Water Street. He bought this business in partnership with Myron Williams with the intention of learning the flour mill business and moving the mill equipment to another location.
In 1877, Henry would build his Farmers’ Elevator across the street from this mill on the corner of Water and Third Street.
True to his word, Henry did indeed move the equipment from the Linabury mill site. In October of 1877, he opened his new mill southeast of the Linabury Mill site at the mouth of Black River stretching south all the way to Court Street along the St. Clair River. This property included a wharf on Black River, a flouring mill, cooper shop, and a second Farmers Elevator (later known as the McMorran Elevator).
He called his new business, McMorran & Co. and advertised as Michigan Mills. Years after Myron Williams death in 1884, Henry reorganized this business in 1889 with his son, David McMorran, and Charles F. Harrington, calling it the McMorran Milling Company. Around the 1890s, Henry leased this mill to George R. Davidson for roughly five years.
In January of 1878, just before Henry became involved in the organization of the Port Huron & Northwestern Railroad, serving as its General Manager, he disposed of his businesses on Commercial Street to William Campfield, Denis Jones, and D. Robeson.
William Campfield and Dennis Jones had worked for Henry for many years. They took over the grocery, coal, port, and oil businesses and incorporated as W.W. Campfield & Co. Mr. D. Robeson and his son, William Robeson, took over the ship chandlery business. Mr. Robeson, who had been operating a sail loft in another building on Commercial Street, re-purposed part of the top floor of McMorran’s grocery to accommodate his sail loft business, and George E. Brockway continued to run his tugging business office from this location. It has been said the top of McMorran’s grocery store held a balcony with a glass front where the river and lake could be seen for several miles and scanned for the approach of vessels.
Interestingly, Henry did not sell his commercial properties on Commercial Street when he disposed of his businesses there. In fact, Henry held ownership of this property for most of his life, earning income from the commercial rent of the location. When his son, David McMorran, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1892, Henry approached his old employee, Dennis Jones, who was still operating as W.W. Campfield & Co. on Commercial Street. He purchased the business back from him. He reorganized it as D. McMorran & Co. Dennis Jones stayed on with the new company acting as manager.
Other businesses came and went over time on the Commercial Street property. Probably the most well-known business that operated on McMorran’s property was the White Star Line ticket office and dock. Perhaps you have seen pictures of the office or of “The Tashmoo” docking at Port Huron. Henry finally sold this property to the White Star Line of Detroit in March of 1927, just a few years before his death in 1929.
And to Think It All Happened on Commercial Street!
It is with H. McMorran & Co. where we begin to see McMorran’s entrepreneurial nature emerge as he stretches his grocery business into a ship chandlery, insurance, coal, oil, vessel, and commercial property rental business. It is during this time Henry starts to build his image and become a vital member in the Port Huron community. It is in operating this business where his next business ideas take root in the railroad, grain elevator, milling, ferry, wrecking and real estate businesses.
This caricature of Henry was printed in Our Michigan Friends “As We See Em” by the Newspaper Cartoonists Association of Michigan in 1905. This cartoon was applicable to him then, but what most people do not know is it was also applicable to him in 1865. While the times dictated the title of “Capitalist”, Henry showed early on he had the makings of what we would call an “Entrepreneur” today. His ability and interest in being involved with many business enterprises at one time and his willingness to take chances on new businesses did not start in 1905. In fact, it all started in 1865 with H. McMorran & Co. down at “The Dock.”
An Old Business in New Hands (1874, March 7) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
Barge Dart. Legal Notice. District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, as In Admiralty. (1866, August 31). Detroit Free Press.
Bird’s Eye View of the City of Port Huron, Sarnia & Gratiot, St. Clair Co., Michigan 1867 & Point Edwards, Lambton Co., Canada West (1867) [image – Commercial Street].
Business Booming Michigan Mills (1893, June 26). The Port Huron Daily Times
Business Prospects at “The Dock.” (1874, March 10). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Caledonia: Registry and Rig Information. Historical Collections of the Great Lakes. Bowling Green State University: Great Lakes Vessels Online Index [photograph]. Retrieved from: http://greatlakes.bgsu.edu/vessel/view/000969
City Officials (1875, May 4). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Coal (1874, Aug. 8). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Crampton, E.J. (1921). History of the St. Clair River. St. Clair Michigan: The St. Clair Republican.
- McMorran & Co. Ad (1892, July 19) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
- Robeson Ad (1881, March 26) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
Daily Stage (stage coaches carried the U.S. Mail)– P. Huron & Brockway by J. Stillson & Co. (January 5, 1856). William Lee Jenks Papers, 1856-1936. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No. 851894 Aa2.
David McMorran is Home from the University (1892, March 26). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Death of Henry McMorran (1929, July 19). The Times Herald.
Deed from W.H.B. Dowling to Henry McMorran dated November 18, 1865 & recorded December 1, 1865, Liber 20, Page 416. Conveyance of one-quarter of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat in the Village of Port Huron (now City). St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.
Deed from Miron Williams & wife to Henry McMorran dated March 11, 1868, recorded April 28, 1868, Liber 28, Page 531. Conveyance of one-quarter of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat of said City of Port Huron. St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.
Deed from George E. Brockway to Myron Williams and Henry McMorran dated June 14, 1873 & recorded July 14th, 1873, Liber 47, Page 526. To replace deed recorded February 23, 1872, Liber 37, Page 310, which contained a description error. Conveyance of one-half of Lots (18), (19), (20), & (21) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat of said City. St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.
Deed from Myron Williams & wife to Henry McMorran dated February 24, 1874, recorded February 26, 1874, Liber 49, Page 496. Conveyance of one-half of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street according to Thorn’s Plat of said City. St. Clair County Register of Deeds Office.
Deed from Henry McMorran to the White Star Line of Detroit, Michigan, a Michigan Corporation dated August 25, 1925, recorded March 7, 1927, Liber 289, Page 487. Conveyance of Lots (24), (25), (26), & (27) on the east-side of Commercial Street in Thorn’s Plat. St. Clair County Register of Deed’s Office.
Emma C. Williams Portrait, date unknown [image of painting]. Port Huron Museum, Port Huron, Michigan.
Everts & Stewart (1876). Port Huron City 1, Combination atlas map of St. Clair County, Michigan: Philadelphia [image: Commercial Street]. Retrieved from: http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/22823/Port+Huron+City+1/St.+Clair+County+1876/Michigan/
George E. Brockway (1867, Tug Towboat) [sketch]. Great Lakes Maritime Collection. Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library. Retrieved from: http://greatlakeships.org/2903078/data?n=1
Henry G. McMorran Portrait, date unknown [image of painting]. Port Huron Museum, Port Huron, Michigan.
Henry McMorran: Sketch of the Career of the Republican Candidate for Representative in Congress (1902, October 21). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Hotchkiss, G.W. (1898). History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest, pp. 55-56. Chicago: George H. Hotchkiss & Co. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=U5c4AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=myron+williams+nelson+mills+two+thousand+acres&source=bl&ots=JtHoMhc3Vg&sig=UjAlcnkumk9lO2–VslalgSLLdw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwixxYfi1-LdAhUp5IMKHTRvC7wQ6AEwAnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=myron%20williams%20nelson%20mills%20two%20thousand%20acres&f=false
History of Marysville (2018). Retrieved from: http://www.cityofmarysvillemi.com/about-us/museum/history-of-marysville
J.E. Botford & Co. Ad (1874). The Port Huron Daily Times.
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. 401, Ferries. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.
John Stillson: Lessee lumber business, Lewis Brockway, Owner (June 1, 1855); Mail stage carrier business in Brockway and Port Huron (January 5, 1856). William Lee Jenks Papers, 1856-1936. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No. 851894 Aa2.
John Stillson Probate File (Feb. 25, 1878). [images: Henry McMorran receipt, circa 1876, Henry McMorran receipt, circa 1877, Port Huron Savings Bank receipt, circa 1884, & Port Huron & Northwestern Railway letterhead, circa 1884]. Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980; Provo, UT, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.
J.W. Thompson Jr. Ad (1874) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
Marine News, Steamer Pawnee, Mills Transportation Co. (1903, July 28) [photograph]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
Marine – Port of Detroit, December 5, Vessel Sales (1872, Dec. 2), Detroit Free Press.
McMorran Milling Company. McMorran Milling Company Minutes. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No. 852114 B.B.2
Michigan Mills (1893, July 17) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
Michigan Mills McMorran & Co. Ad (1878, April 15) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.
Mills Transportation Company of Marysville (1873, Oct. 10), The Port Huron Daily Times.
New ferry building for Moffat and Brockway (July 8, 1854). William Lee Jenks Papers, 1856-1936. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Call No. 851894 Aa2.
Notice sale of W.W. Campfield & Co and Incorporation of D. McMorran & Co. (1892, April 16). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Port Huron (1877, Sept. 9). Detroit Free Press.
Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association (2018). Wm. Soutar Collection, from Friends 1871-1878. Retrieved from: https://phahpa.org/2018/09/04/wm-soutar-collection-from-friends-1871-1878/
Port Huron Industries – Its’ Flouring Mills – What There Is and What is Needed? (1873, Oct. 21). The Port Huron Times.
Ruger, A. & Chicago Lithographing Co., contributors (1867). Bird’s eye view of the city of Port Huron, Sarnia & Gratiot, St. Clair Co., Michigan 1867 & Point Edwards, Lambton Co., Canada West, Chicago: Chicago Lithographing Co. [image: Commercial Street with view of wharf]. Retrieved from: https://www.loc.gov/item/73693443/
Sale of the Linabury Mill Property (1874, February 28). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Sanborn Map Company (Aug. 1887) [images: Linabury Mill, Farmers Elevator & McMorran & Co]. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan. Retrieved from the Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114pm.g041591887/?sp=5&r=0.24,0.772,0.782,0.296,0
Savings Bank (1872, Oct. 22) The Port Huron Daily Times.
Schooner Caledonia. Legal Notices. District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Michigan, as In Admiralty. (1866, December 17) & (1867, January 8). Detroit Free Press.
Schooner Caledonia, date unknown, Great Lakes Vessels Index Online [photograph] – Bowling Green State University. Retrieved from: http://greatlakes.bgsu.edu/vessel/view/000969
Ship Building: List of Vessels Built on St. Clair River Now in Commission (1873, May 9). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Sketch of Henry McMorran (1910, Sept.1). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Soldiers Monument, Pine Grove Park, Port Huron, Michigan (circa 1905) [photograph]. Detroit Publishing Company: Detroit Publishing Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Retrieved from: https://www.loc.gov/item/2016805319/
Tawas (1864), Tug, Towboat [photograph]. Great Lakes Maritime Collection. Alpena County George M. Fletcher Public Library. Retrieved from: http://greatlakeships.org/2897909/data?n=3
Tawas (Propeller), exploded, 14 May 1874. Maritime History of the Great Lakes. Retrieved from: http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/48558/data?n=1
The Batchelor Will: A General Contest Commenced by Henry Batchelor – Port Huron’s Interest in the Matter (1892, June 3). The Port Huron Daily Times.
The Savings Bank (1878, July 16) The Port Huron Daily Times.
The Tashmoo at Port Huron (circa 1906) [photograph]. Detroit Publishing Company. Detroit Publishing Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Retrieved from: https://www.loc.gov/resource/det.4a13030/
Unveiled: An Elegant Picture of the late Jacob F. Batchelor Unveiled at Ladies Library Hall – Speeches, etc. (1892, October 13). The Port Huron Daily Times.
U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, Operations Inc., 2007. Original data: Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Michigan, 1862-1866; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M773, 15 rolls); Records of the Internal Revenue Service, Record Group 58; The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Henry McMorran & H. McMorran & Co. cited for tax years 1865 and 1866 through online search “Henry McMorran” in Ancestry.com U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line].
W.W. Campfield & Co. Ad (1879, March 15) [image]. The Port Huron Daily Times.