Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Few of Our Favorite Things, Part Eight: Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

[Marriott C. Morris] backporch 5442 Germantown Ave.  April 26, 1887.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

One of my Print Department favorites is the Marriott C. Morris collection of photographic prints and negatives. Morris (1863-1948) was an amateur photographer who lived in Philadelphia, and the more than 1,500 photographs in this collection dating from 1881 until about 1911 are intimate portrayals of his life, family, and travels in and around the region. 

Co[u]s[in] Mary P. Lardner’s old house & place at Tacony.  From river--on boat. May 2, 1885.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

My first blog post about the collection documented a researcher’s quest to find a photograph of the Lardner estate, something he happily located in the Morris collection (see above).  As the title Morris gave the photograph indicates, his cousin Mary P. Lardner lived on the estate at the time it was taken. Darren Fava and staff at the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department happened upon my post and were excited to locate a photograph of the no longer standing Lardner estate and surroundings on the site of the current Lardner’s Point Park. They ended up using the image on an interpretive panel for the newly created park.

Rear view of old Cedar Grove house.  October 22, 1887.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

Fava and his colleague Christopher Dougherty decided to comb through the Morris collection to see what other treasures they might unearth.  Lo and behold, they came upon images of Cedar Grove, once located in Frankford but moved to Fairmount Park by the Parks and Recreation Department in the late 1920s. Images of the house shed light on exterior as well as interior architectural details that department staff are now using as a reference for their current renovation of the house.  Images of the house also enabled Kristen Suzda, an architect at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, the firm working on the restoration of Cedar Grove, to identify the use of a rain barrel (at left in above photograph) and blogged about it here: Marriot C. Morris’s cousin Lydia Thompson Morris was the last person to live in the house at the Cedar Grove estate; she donated it to the City of Philadelphia in 1926.

Elephant House, Atlantic City.  Taken by Sam [Samuel Buckley Morris].  April 1884.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

While looking through the Morris collection for another patron, I stumbled upon the above image of Lucy the Elephant, a Jersey Shore landmark I made the subject of a previous post. The barren landscape shows how desolate the area where Lucy stood was before shore-goers spread south from Atlantic City to buy up real estate.  Real estate developers built Lucy as a ploy to draw visitors and, in turn, to sell properties.  We can only assume that the Morris family was also drawn to this attraction as they often vacationed at the Jersey shore.  This photograph was taken by Marriott’s brother Samuel Buckley who passed away at the young age of 17, only two years after this photograph was taken. 

Sarah J. Weatherwax (right), Curator of Prints & Photographs, shows the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection to the grandchildren of Marriott C. Morris (William P. Morris, Eleanor M. Cox and David M. Morris, from left to right), September 2013.

We were recently visited by grandchildren of Marriott C. Morris who came to view the collection and were able to assist me with biographical information on the family.  The image below taken by Morris on a canoeing trip in the New Jersey Pine Barrens had piqued my interest since I grew up in the vicinity of Atsion—an historic industrial village and present-day recreation spot in the Wharton State Forest.  At the time of this photograph, dated May 18, 1906, the Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton owned the grounds of Atsion and I wondered if he might have had a connection with the Morris family, given Morris’s various associations with Philadelphia’s social elites. The Morris relatives were not able to identify a connection, knowing only that their grandfather enjoyed canoeing in South Jersey. When I spoke to Pine Barrens historian and author Barbara Solem-Stull about this coincidence, she mentioned that Joseph Wharton’s daughter Anna married Harrison S. Morris.  I was not able to identify a direct connection, but Solem-Stull made the point that, since this was private property at the time, Morris most likely had permission from Wharton to be there. This photograph is also an invaluable record of the slab-sheathed house—the oldest structure still standing in Atsion—believed to have been built in the early years of Atsion's bog iron industry, which dated from 1766 until 1850.  Look for my upcoming post in which I plan to juxtapose a recent photograph of this structure with the below photograph!

Deserted House at Atsion, N.J.  May 18, 1906.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

Overall, the Marriott C. Morris Collection is an extensive treasure trove of material documenting Morris’s travels and family life.  Those looking for domestic images and records of historic structures in and around Philadelphia from the late nineteenth into the early twentieth centuries will do well to search the Morris database (this database is available to researchers on-site and can also be shared digitally on request).  A small selection of Marriott C. Morris photographs can also be found on our website.  More information on the Morris family can be found on the National Park Service’s Morris Family Papers Blog.

Nicole Joniec
Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager

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