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Whiteside Co Villages > City of Morrison

Source: Portrait & Biographical Album of Whiteside County, ILL
Originally published 1885
Transcribed by: Denise McLoughlin
Tampico Area Historical Society

Pages  918-927


This beautiful city, the county seat of Whiteside County, is situated in the western part of Mr. Pleasant Township, and is surrounded by rolling fertile country, forming a picturesque landscape. It is located on sections 17, 18 abd 19, and was platted by W. S. Wilkinson, Surveyor, in 1855, under the superintendency of Messrs. Johnson and Vroom, railroad men, who had come in upon the advent of the Chicago & Northwestern Rairoad. The location of the road through here and the building up of the town is somewhat providential. The line was being laid out with the intention of running through Unionville, then a thriving town in Union Grove Township; but the railroad men met with so cold a reception from the citizens, and the property holders were so exorbitant in the valuing of their lands, that they finally abandoned Unionville, and turning their line southward, passed through sections 17 and 18 in Mr. Pleasant Township, and made a station there. This sealed the fate of Unionville. Trivial things sometimes produce important changes and results. It is reported that when the line was being run it passed through the house of one of the good matrons of this hamlet, who raised such a storm about the engineer's head that he at once withdrew from the field, saying, with an oath, "that if he could prevent it, they should not have a railroad there at all." The place selected for a depot and a town was on the land originally owned by John W. Stakes and the Knoxes. Other parties later on had secured interests here.

This land was purchased by the incorporators of Morrison, who were Lyman Johnson, H. S. Vroom, Homer Caswell, John W. Stakes, James Snyder, N. M. Jackson, John J. West, L. H. Robinson and W. H. Van Epps. These gentlemen were the founders of the town. It was named in honor of a friend of Mr. Van Epps, Mr. Charles Morrison, of New York. Lyman Johnson has the credit of erecting the first house. It was located where the First National Bank now is.

The plat, as originally laid out, embraced all of section 18, and the west half of the sourthwest quarter, and the west half of the northeast quarter of section 17; the north half of the northwest quarter, and the north half of the northwest quarter of section 19, township 21 north, of range 5 east of the fourth principal meridian. Since that time there have been several additions, and among these are Knox's in 1856, Johnson's in 1858, and Gridley & Nelson's in the same year.

The most important event in the history of this place, without which the city would have never been, occurred Oct. 19, 1855, when the first train steamed in. This settled the destiny of Morrison. From this time on the underbrush and scrub oaks disappeared, and houses sprung up in their places, and the growth and development of Morrison was assured. John E. Bennett and Henry Ustick came in and opened their stores, having first secured their building, which were the first business houses opened. Mr. Bennett;s store was located where the Revere House now stands. The first dwelling erected in the town was by Henry S. Vroom, on the corner of Main and Base streets, though Conductor Furlong had brought his cabin in on a car, and had set it up before this. Blacksmiths, brick masons and carpenters came in from all parts of the county, and there was plenty of work for them to do. Robertson's saw-mill was kept busy, and A. S. Tryson started a brick kiln to meet the demands. About this time Mrs. B. O. Russell died, which was the first death in the new town. That there should be no diminution to the population, Mrs. Henry S. Vroom gave birth to a daughter, who was named Minnie.

The rich and settled country surrounding Morrison aided and sustained her in her growth. So much developed was this country that in 1856 an agricultural fair was held, which was attended with satisfactory results. This was the first agricultural fair held in the county. In 1857 substantial brick blocks began to make their appearance.

The growth of the tow was so rapid that it was deemed necessary to incorporate, and accordingly the people were given notice that this subject would be considered. It read as follows:

"Notice - The residents of lawful age of the town of Morrison, Illinois, will meet at Johnson's Hall, on Saturday, April 18, 1857, at 4 o'clock, p.m., to consider whether the said town shall be incorporated under the statutes in such cases made and provided. A full attendance is requested."

These notices were signed by William L. Coe, and posted in conspicuous places. A meeting was duly held in pursuance to this call, the result of which was in favor of incorporation, only one negative vote having been received against it.

In accordance with this decision an election was held April 25, 1857, for the purpose of organizing a village government, which resulted in the choice of H. S. Vroom, S. H. McCrea, Lyman Johnson, James G. Gridley and William L. Coe, Trustees; and Hiram Olmstead, Police Magistrate. Wm. L Coe was chosen President of the Board of Trustees. There were 44 votes cast at this election. During the year the growth of the village of Morrison was given another impetus. At the fall election a vote was taken upon the question of the removal of the county seat from Sterling to Morrison, and the choice was given to the latter town. The spring following, May 3, 1858, the records were removed to Morrison. The building now occupied by John S. Green as a drug store, and S. W Robinson & Co. as a hardware store, on Main Street, were fitted up for offices and court purposes, and were used until the new county buildings were completed.

In 1867 a bill was presented to the Legislature and passed incorporating the "City of Morrison." By an error in the bill, the "City of Morrison" was placed over in Union Grove Township, range four having been used in defining the locality instead of range five. Notwithstanding this, an election was held under the charter, and two tickets were pu up, with an issue for or against the charter. The anti-charter party carried the election, and, strange as it may seem, organized their government under it. the question, however, soon arose as to whether Morrison had a legal city government. It was finally settled by bringing the question before the Circuit Court under a writ of quo warranto against the city officers. The Court decided that there was no city government, and this placed Morrison again under the village corporation.

A second bill was passed by the Legislature, and approved Feb. 23, 1869, providing a city corporation. This charter ws accepted by the people in a vote taken March 29. 1869.

On the 6th of April, 1869, an election was held under the charter, when the following officers were elected: Geoge A. Whitcomb, Mayor; John S. Green, W. L. Coe, S. W Robinson, J. A. McKay, W. J. Savage and James Colby, Aldermen. John S. Green was chosen Treasurer; W. E. Savage, Clerk; L. G. Johnson, City Attorney; and Marshal and Street Commissioner, George M. Cole. The question of license or anti-license was an issue at this election, the anti-license party securing the victory.

In 1872 the charter was amended, and the city government was reorganized under the general organization laws of the State. This took effect May 1, 1873. Among other things provided under the new organization was a two-years term for the Mayor. The election under reorganization was held April 15, 1873. At this time the city was $4,194.74 in debt. Additional loans were made during this year, amounting in all to $10,600,

In December, 1855, the site of the Union Grove (Unionville) posoffice was changed to Morrison, with John E. Bennett as Postmaster who was appointed to the Union Grove office in December, 1855. The name was changed to Morrison, June 5, 1857. Mr. Bennett served his entire time as Postmaster both at Union Grove and at Morrison, on the site of the present postoffice.

In 1856 the Baptist Society commenced the erection of a church building, completing it the same year. This was the first church edifice erected in Morrison, and the brick used in its construction were manufactured in the town. The people up to this time depended mostly on Unionville for religious matters.

Dr. Norris was the first physician to locate in Morrison. He was soon followed by others from different parts of the country.

The pricipal contests between the citizens of Morrison from its first foundation has been on the liquor question. These contests, which have been conducted in the spirit of good nature, have resulted generally in favor of licensing the liquor traffic. One of the peculiar features of this city, and one which is observed by a stranger, is the kind and neighborly feeling the inhabitants have toward each other. No serious quarrel has ever occurred between one citizen and another.

The population of Morrison is estimated now at 2,100.

The citizens have gone on in their improvements, putting up business blocks, church edifices and public buildings, erecting grand residences, and adorning their grounds and streets with fine shade trees, until they have one of the most beautiful towns in the country; and all this has been done within one generation. It's growth is steady and sure. Many of the first settlers who saw this country in a wild, uncultivated condition, are still living here. They have beheld in one generation a wilderness transformed into a fair city, with homes of wealth, culture and refinement, and surrounded by an agricultural country which for beauty and excellence is unexcelled.

And while they contemplate the fair picture that lies before them, they have the additional satisfaction of knowing that they are the artists who have carved it out.

The posoffice was first opened in Morrison in December, 1855, with John E. Bennett as Postmaster. He was succeeded by John M. Cobleigh in 1859. In 1861 A. C. Jackson was appointed, who held the place until 1866, when John M. Cobleigh was again appointed. Frank Clendenmin succeeded Mr. Cobleigh in January, 1867, and is the present incumbent.


The Morrison Graded School is supplied by an able corps of teachers, M. F. Miller being Superintendentl Mrs. P. F. Burtch, Principal; Miss L. A. Wellington, assistant; and  in the grammar department are Miss E. Worthington and Miss Anna Corcoran, while the  intermediate department is presided over by Miss J. Mahoney and Miss Kate L. Martin. The primary department is in charge of Miss Cora Patterson, Miss M. L. Hewit and Miss Ida Strawder. the musical department is under the management of Prof. Mountz. Vocal music is taught in all the departments. The course of study of the High School covers four years, and is thorough in all the English branches, the graduates receiving diplomas. The graduates of this school have formed an alumni association. The teachers are devoted to their profession, and are painstaking in instructing their pupils, of whom there are about 500.

The school has a library of 250 volumes, and a cabinet of geology, with a laboratory for chemistry. The main building was erected in 1860, since which time extensive additions have been made. The main portion is three-story, with two-story wings extending each side. It is constructed of brick and is heated by steam. Ten rooms are used for school instruction.


To secure good water and plenty of it was one of the first public considerations that occupied the minds of the people of Morrison. they wanted to secure immunity, as far as possible from fire, and also to have a good flow of pure water for domestic purposes. this subject was put into definite shape in 1868, when the citizens authorized the Board of Trustees to put down an artesian well, at an expense of $3.000. The well, which was located north of the town, upon high ground, was completed and the water was brought to within 20 feet of the surface. A large tank was constructed with a capacity of 90,000 gallons, which was to be kept full of water for fire purposes. A large-sized wind-mill was erected at the mill, with pipes connecting with the tank.

The above plan, however, was not a very successful one. The water-tank burst and flooded the immediate neighborhood, doing considerable damage. After further consideration the citizens concluded to adopt the Holly system. This plan they put into execution, locating the water-works in the sourthwest part of the town, near the creek.  Here they found some fine springs with very pure water, and over the springs they constructed a large resevoir, with a capacity of 4,000 barrels of water. It is held to this capacity by the springs which have a constant flow, makeing the supply practically inexhaustible. The Worthington pumps were put in, with two engines and two boilers, having 80-horse power. Pipes extend from the pumps to the reservoir. Over the engines and pumps is erected  a good frame building. An eight-inch main runs from the water-works up town, and to the old tank, which is stillused, or held in reserve. Hydrants are placed in different parts of the city, and are connected with the water mains. Fire alarms are placed in different sections of the city, which connect with the water-works. The engines can pump 52 barrels a minute. These works were completed in 1882, at a cost of $20,000. Mr. H. C. Parrish, a very competent engineer, and a trustworthy man, has charge of the works.

In connection with the water-works, and for fire purposes, the city has two organized hose companies, the Jackson and the Juvenile Company, with about 1,500  of hose.


Morrison has a band that any city ight be proud of. It was organized in 1882, with nine members. S. Horner is the leader. During the first year of organization they filled many engagements, and purchased their instruments. In 1884, they achieved a great success at the State Band Tournament held at Geneseo, Ill., Aug. 30, by winning two prizes. They practice regularly, and are constatly improving. It is called the Cornet Band.







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