Those of Us Who Try…. DO: Part II

There was more to R.C. Mudge than just making paper garments.  He enjoyed music, acting, and giving to those less fortunate than himself.  In 1889, he printed a piece of piano sheet music titled “The Paper Vest Gallop” composed by J.E. Fancher from the sulphite paper used to make his paper garments.  He gave out free copies to anyone in the Port Huron community who requested one.  At the time, the cost of a piece of sheet music was 50 cents.  Today, that would equate to $12.50.  The sheet music survives and is part of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at the John Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums archive.  In addition to printing off and giving out free music, Mudge was praised many times by the Port Huron community for donating paper blankets to the Port Huron Hospital and Home Association and paper vests to local mail carriers.

Paper Vest Gallop

Before R.C. Mudge started making paper garments, he performed briefly on the vaudeville stage.  He gave up acting when he and his wife, Delphine, had their daughter, Generva Delphine, who went by the name Eva.  Little Eva Mudge shared her father’s artistic inclination and love of music.

In 1890, R.C. Mudge sold his interest in the paper garment business to Henry McMorran and Wilbur Davidson.  Together, they reorganized the company under the name The Port Huron Paper Clothing Company.  The factory was moved from Butler Street to the Benedict Block on Military Street.   Sometime in 1891, Mudge left Port Huron and moved to Brooklyn, New York.  By 1893, little Eva Mudge was on her way to becoming a child actress dancing and singing her way into the hearts of New York theater goers.

In 1895, Eva Mudge made her debut on the national stage alongside Sadie Hasson, a very well-known theater actress at the time.  Sadie was best known for her theatrical partnership and marriage to actor, Joseph J. Dowling.  By the time Sadie shared the stage with Eva, she was newly divorced from Mr. Dowling and nearing the end of her acting career.  She retired in 1901 and settled in Mount Clemens, Michigan, until her death in 1937.

eva and sally 2

Eva Mudge and Sadie Hasson

hasson playbill

Advertising brochure for Nobody’s Claim, circa 1880

Eva ended up catching the eye of Buffalo Bill Cody and she was asked to play a small role in his Wild West Show.  She made instant friends with Walter E. Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty, who shot an apple off the top of her head in the show.  I estimate she traveled off and on with Buffalo Bill between the years 1894 to 1900.  I managed to find a photograph of this Woodland’s beaded deer skin jacket once owned by R.C. Mudge.  On the inside collar is a handwritten inscription that reads “Presented to R.C. Mudge, W.F. Cody, October 20, 1894.”

jacket and bill

Woodland’s Beaded Deer Skin Jacket, circa 1894 & Buffalo Bill Cody, date unknown

quick change artist photo

Eva Mudge became a popular vaudeville star in the early 1900’s with her quick change act, “The Military Maid“.    During her performance she would change into various costumes to include a nurse, sailor, a confederate solider and Stonewall Jackson.  She mesmerized audiences nationally and internationally in this role and she became known as the fastest quick change artist on vaudeville.  In her later years, when asked about the mechanics of her quick change secret, she disclosed she had two dressers who could pull a string on the back of her costume that would instantaneously make it fall off.



Eva Mudge NYPL Digital Collections

Eva Mudge, date unknown, NYPL

R.C. Mudge acted as Eva’s stage manager during her vaudeville years.  This role led him to form a talent agency in partnership with C.G. Prouty where he managed other vaudeville stars.  Mudge was also active in The White Rats and served as their acting President in 1906.  The White Rats was an actors labor organization, which began in 1900 to combat the Vaudeville Manager’s Association and the United Booking Office dominance over the profession.  At the time, these two organizations held enormous control over the wages of performers.

white rats for blog

1915 White Rats Program Cover and 1914 White Rats Union Card

At the same time that R.C. Mudge was busy managing his daughter’s career, he also held  interest in the automobile industry.  This time his tinkering mind managed to produce a flue construction patent (patent number 658.114) for steam carriages for the Locomotive Company of America.    The Locomotive Company of America started manufacturing steam carriages out of Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1900.

locomobile model circa 1900

Locomobile steam carriage model, circa 1900

locomobile model sectional view circa 1900

Locomobile steam carriage, section view, circa 1900

Mudge also showed an interest in electrical engines traveling overseas to view an electrical engine for himself.   So it is no small wonder Eva Mudge was the first woman to drive a Waverly electric car in New York and the first woman to race cars competitively.


Genevra Delphine Mudge aka Eva Mudge, circa early 1900s

Later in her acting career, Eva would make the transition to film with parts in a Louis Mayer production, The Famous Mrs. Fair (1923) and Night Song (1947).  Eva married Sanford Nelson and her daughter, Ruth Gloria Nelson, was born in 1905.


Group Theatre, c. 1938, Ruth Nelson (back row, third from left)

Ruth Nelson would go on to become an actress and an original member of the Group Theatre in New York alongside Elia Kazan.   She would star in his film The Sea of Grass (1947).  Ruth made many films for various Hollywood studios.  However, she took a long hiatus from acting when her husband director, John Cromwell, was blacklisted in 1951 by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Ruth stood by her husband during this period turning down the opportunity to star in the stage production of Death of a Salesman.

The Mudge family certainly led a colorful life.  Originating in Detroit, they passed through Port Huron, New York City, and Hollywood each of them molding their lives by use of creative talent.  When I jumped into the world of Henry McMorran, I never imagined I would unlock such rich stories about people like the Mudge family.  Every day, I am learning the life of one touches many and personal history research is full of little twists and turns on an interconnected highway.


Among Agents and Producers (October 31, 1908).  The New York Dramatic Mirror.

Barrett, A. (2017).  11 Legendary Ladies of Motor Sports [photograph: Genevra Delphine Mudge aka Eva Mudge, circa early 1900s], Nitto Driving Lane website, Retrieved from:

Burchard Galleries (2009).  [photographs: Woodland’s Beaded Deer Skin Jacket, circa 1894 & Buffalo Bill Code, date unknown].  Retrieved from:

Eva Mudge (n.d.). [photograph:  NYPL] Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library.  Retrieved from: 

Eva Mudge (n.d.) [photograph] IMDb.  Retrieved from:

Eva Mudge, the “Military Maid”.  Performing Arts Archive.  Retrieved from:

Eva Mudge Will Star (January 21, 1895).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Ian Brabner Rare Americana (2018).  [photograph: advertising brochure for Nobody’s Claim, circa 1880].  Retrieved from:

Larsen, D. J. (2012). [photograph:  Sadie Hasson] Legendary Locals of Mount Clemens, Michigan, Legendary Locals, an imprint of Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina.

Miss Eva Mudge (January 6, 1903).  [photograph: Clever Change Artist], The Detroit Free Press.

Stanley Motor Carriage Company (2011).  Locomobile Patents:  Flue Construction for Steam Carriages – Richard C. Mudge.  Retrieved from:

Miss Eva Mudge (February 6, 1900) [photograph: newspaper clipping].  The Olsburg Gazette.

Nickel Battery for the Electric Automobile (July 14, 1901).  The St. Louis Republic.

Palazzo, R. (2017).  Scotty’s Castle, Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina.

President’s Report.  Port Huron Hospital and Home Association.  (December 19, 1889).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

Seagrave, K. (1944).  Actor’s Organize:  A History of Union Formation Efforts in America 1880-1919, McFarland & Co., Inc:  Jefferson, North Carolina.

Social News.  (November 13, 1889).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

The Paper Vest Galop (August 21, 1889).  The Port Huron Daily Times.

The American Vaudeville Museum Archive (n.d.).  Sadie M. Faren and A. Harry Chick Vaudeville Collection, [1914 White Rats Union Card photograph].  Retrieved from:

Wikipedia (2018)  Locomobile Company of America.  Retrieved from:

Wikipedia (2018).  Locomobile Company of America.  [photographs:  Locomobile steam carriage model, circa 1900 & Locomobile stream carriage, section view, circa 1900].  Retrieved from:

Wikipedia (2018).  Ruth Nelson, [photograph, Group Theatre].  Retrieved from:

Wikipedia (2018).  White Rats of America, [1915 White Rats Program Cover photograph].  Retrieved from:


Those of Us Who Try……DO. Part I

Sometimes an idea is sparked by a simple thought, a notion, or a gesture that stays with us.  We let it mull around in our minds for a while, keep it close, and when the time is right we put it to use in our physical world.  These kinds of ideas mass produced by all of us contribute to our personal experiences and essentially create and dictate the world we live in.  Other times, it is almost like the form of an idea runs quickly across our consciousness and is filtered out.  Gone.  Was it a missed opportunity for exploitation?  Doubtful.  I like to think that ideas that brushstroke our consciousness are in fact faulty thoughts gone astray that our mind was supposed to weed out and dispose of in the trash receptacle space of our unconscious mind.  But who knows?  All I do know is we are lucky creatures to have the intellect that we do and the physical means to share it.  When I read or hear a personal story that entails an idea that take hold, grows, and shapes our world or someone’s individual life path, I love to share it. So here we go……

I recently came across a fella by the name of R.C. Mudge who lived in Detroit in the late 1880’s.  In his youth, he loved to attend parties in the hopes of meeting a special young lady.  In the winter months, his walks to those parties were cold ones.  On one particularly cold night, he decided to put some newspaper underneath his coat for insulation.  What he found out was that it served as a good insulator.

He used the newspaper all that winter to brave the cold.  One evening it caught the attention of his friend, Edgar Wasson.  The two men got to talking about the matter, the talking sparked some ideas, and their ideas eventually led them to design and make a paper vest out of sulphite fibre.  They were so happy with their design and product they became convinced there was a market for it.

mudge vest patent

They applied to patent their design in July of 1888, and by February of 1889, their patent was approved.  At the time they filed for patent, Mudge and Wasson decided to go forward and began a manufacturing company in Detroit under the name American Co.  They hired a handyman from Canada, John C. McLaughlin, to help them and started manufacturing the garments.  Within a few months, they had produced and sold 20,000 paper vests, and the orders kept coming.  Because their supply of sulphite fibre had to come from Ohio and they lacked the capital to expand, they could not keep up with the supply to meet demand.

Sulphite Paper Works Plant No. 2

The Sulphite Fibre Works Plant No. 2, 1907

At the end of December 1889, it came to Mudge’s attention that a sulphite fibre company had opened up on the Black River in Port Huron.  The company was called The Sulphite Fibre Works.  Lacking the funds to expand and the fear of losing his business caused Mudge to make the journey to Port Huron in early May of 1889 to ask local capitalists to invest their money with him.  With a spring in his step and a dream in his pocket, Mudge met with a group of men and proposed forming a stock company with the capital to manufacture his paper clothing in Port Huron.  Some of the men he met that day included:  Henry Howard, James Goulden, H.G. Barnum, Dr. F. Lohrstorfer, O’Brien J. Atkinson, Philo Truesdeli, E.J. Spaulding, S.L. Ballentine , W.F. Davidson, and Henry McMorran.

howard and atkinson

SL Ballentine

the boys

After hearing Mudge out, the men made an initial investigation.  They decided to give Mudge and his new company a chance.  On May 25, 1889, the stock company was organized under the name R.C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company, and the necessary funds were subscribed in the amount of $75,000.  The Directors took a vote and elected the following officers:

President – W.F. Davidson
Vice-President – Philo Truesdeli
Treasurer – E.J. Spaulding
Secretary – E.M. Wasson
General Manager – R.C. Mudge.

RC Mudge Paper Clothing Company

Mudge and his business moved to Port Huron in July.  He brought John McLaughlin and Edgar Wasson with him, and once again they were in business.  Initially Mudge planned to manufacture 1,000 garments a day, but they soon had to double that figure to meet demand.  In addition to making men’s paper vests, they started producing ladies’ vest, skirts, blankets, and shoe insoles.


Aerial view of the Fair, 1889

In 1889, Mudge and Wasson sponsored a company booth at the Detroit International Exposition and Fair where they displayed their paper clothing. Their booth drew large crowds and was considered one of the popular booths.  A newspaperman summed up the whole experience in a spotlight article on the company in the Detroit Tribute: “The men’s vest cost 50 cents, the ladies’ 75 cents and other goods come at corresponding prices.  These paper garments cannot be compared with inferior woolen garments.  Wind will blow through wool.  It simply can’t get through this paper, which, besides being warm is tough, standing a pull of 98 pounds to the inch without tearing.”

By November of 1889, the company employed 110 people, 97 of them women. When the company started in July, it employed only 3 women.  To have enough space to mass produce their products, the company had expanded their operations on Butler Street into two buildings located next door.  They were looking to occupy two more buildings on the block in the next few months, and there was talk of the need to build a brick factory within the next year.  It was predicted the factory would employ approximately 500 people.


The main building of the company was powered by electric light from the Excelsior Electric Light Works.  Electricity also powered 27 Singer electric sewing machines.  Women working for the company used the machines to sew the garments together and finishing touches, such as color sateens sewn over the paper were hand sewn.  Orders were coming in from New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and all parts of Michigan.  The women were paid wages of between $2.50-$6.50 a week for their work.  The highest paid employee was John McLaughlin, who acted as the head cutter.  He earned a wage of $25.00 per week.

I love the humble origin of the R.C. Mudge Paper Company, and I’m so glad I could share it with you.  But R.C. Mudge was not only an idea man.  He was also kind, handsome, generous, and talented.  My favorite characteristic about him was the generous spirit he showered upon his community.  So, it is no small wonder the Port Huron community opened their arms and embraced him. If only for a little while.

Oh, goodness, there is so much more of this story to tell and I have run out of time to tell it.  One blog on this one is just not enough.  I guess it will have to keep for another day.

Until then……if you can……take a moment…… and THINK ALL OF THE THINKS YOU CAN POSSIBLY THINK and if one good THINK stays with you…. share it, savor it, cultivate it like a garden, and try like a mad hatter to grow it.  And most importantly, remind yourself that sometimes in life all it takes is a good IDEA in your head and a DREAM in your heart to make the impossible POSSIBLE.  I am sure Mudge and McMorran would more than agree with me.

Til’ next time.



Captured image of the Excelsior Electric Light Works, (1887).  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan, Sanborn Map Company, [Image].  Library of Congress.  Retrieved from:

Don, the Up North Memories Guy, (2016).  Sulphite Paper Works, circa, 1907, Plant No. 2, Port Huron, MI [Image], flickr.  Retrieved from:

Google Patents, (n.d.).  Paper Garment No. 397,437, February 5, 1889.  Retrieved from:  

Hug emoticon, (2017).  The Happydemic Blog.  Retrieved from:

Michigan Art Company, (1904).  Men in Michigan: A Collection of the Portraits of Men Prominent in Business and Professional Life in Michigan, Michigan Art Company: Detroit.  Portraits of Wilbur F. Davidson and Henry G. McMorran [Image]

R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Co.Garments envelope with logo, (1889), [Image], Treasurecoastamp, Ebay.  Retrieved from:

The Alice T. Miner Museum Blog, (2016).  Ariel view of the Fair, circa 1889, Detroit.  Retrieved from:  

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, May 25).  A New Enterprise.

The Port Huron Daily Times, 1889, November 2). Paper Clothing.

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, June 27).  Paper Clothing Company.

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1901, July 9).  O’Brien J. Atkinson [Image].

The Port Huron Daily Times, (1889, September 28).  The Way it Came About.

The Times Herald, (1949, June 22).  Silas L. Ballentine [Image].

Wikpedia, (2018).  Henry Howard [Image].  Retrieved from:

Wink Wink emoticon, (2015).  Faith, Sigh & DYI Blog [Image].  Retrieved from:

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