#10 Francis H. Morrison House
1217 Michigan Avenue
Written by Fern Eddy Schultz and Michele Barber
Architect Charles Whitney Stevens, Chicago
The likeliest date of construction of the
Morrison House is 1905, as it was reported having
been “erected during the past year” in the
Argus-Bulletin in 1906. Francis Morrison’s
grandfather, Ezekiel Morrison, acquired the lot
for 1217 Michigan Street in 1848.
The Morrison House, about four blocks
southeast of the La Porte Downtown National
Register district, was the first house on “the
Avenues” to be put on the National Register of
Historic Places. It is described in the Interim Report for La Porte County as a Colonial Revival style; however, it is architecturally significant as a fine, unaltered, early 20th century Period Revival house displaying a unique blend of styles. This eclecticism is exhibited by the use of Classical, Tudor, and Gothic details which contrast with the Craftsman look of the stuccoed foundation and porch trim.
The Morrison House was designed by Chicago architect Charles Whitney Stevens. According to Maren Moore, Francis’ daughter, this is one of three houses designed by Stevens in La Porte, and it was the first one built. The other two are at 1408 Michigan Avenue and 1417 Indiana Avenue. The house at 1408 Michigan Avenue has the same form (rectangular plan, hip roof with wide end parallel to the street) but its details are much simpler than 1217 Michigan Avenue and there is not the same blend of several styles. The house at 1417 Indiana Avenue, on the other hand, was obviously designed later and is a formal, brick, Georgian Revival house with details only in that style.
Francis Henry Morrison was the son of Henry Don Morrison (November 19, 1843-December 27, 1900) and Mary Naomi Ridgway (May 28, 1843-January 26, 1901). Henry and Mary were married in the county on December 15, 1864. Francis was born in La Porte County on September 6, 1866. He attended public schools in La Porte and later entered Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He also attended the Maryland Military and Naval Academy in Oxford, Maryland. The family initially resided in Kankakee Township where Henry was a farmer. Later, the family moved to La Porte. By 1894, Henry and his family resided at 1213 Michigan Avenue (since demolished).
The Morrison men were very influential in the organization and operation of the First National Bank for many years. In 1863, Henry’s father, Ezekiel (1801-1884), and brother, Robert S., were among the founders of the First National Bank located at that time at 701 Lincoln Way. The bank was formally organized in 1864. Ezekiel was one of the original directors and became President in 1872. His son, Robert S., was Cashier at the bank from its founding until his death in 1884. Henry served as Vice-President and, upon Robert S.’s passing, was made a director. Robert S. Morrison’s son, Robert E., assumed the position of Cashier after his father’s passing. He resigned in 1898. In 1890, Francis, after working in banking in Kearney, Nebraska, for several years, returned to La Porte and became one of the directors of the First National Bank. His banking career spanned more than half a century in which he also served as Assistant Cashier and Vice-President, continuing the tradition of his father and grandfather before him. He was in attendance, at age 97, when the bank celebrated its 100th anniversary in December 1963. In addition to banking, Francis served as the president of the Moore & Richter Lumber Company.
Francis married Maren Downing in Kearney, Nebraska, on June 15, 1891. She was born on May 19, 1869, in Mauston, Wisconsin, the daughter of Wallace Annan and Susanna Clark Downing. Maren and Francis had two daughters, Georgiana, born in Nebraska on August 4, 1898, and Maren, born in La Porte on November 9, 1910. Maren Downing Morrison, died on June 9, 1957, in La Porte at Holy Family Hospital. Francis died in Lake Worth, Florida, at the age of 99 on June 3, 1966. At the time of his death, he was a director emeritus of the First National Bank, and he retained his home at 1217 Michigan Avenue. The Morrison monument is located on Lot #188 in the Maple Hill Section of Pine Lake Cemetery.
The 3,700 square foot home at 1217 Michigan has had only two exterior changes – a two-story sleeping porch was added circa 1915, and the brick porch piers and panels in the center of the balustrades were stuccoed over.
Inside, the three-foot wide entry door leads to the foyer detailed with the stenciling of trees on the upper walls. The stenciling is a feature throughout the house with various scenery and geometric patterns still vivid. It was done by three artists from Marshall Field & Company.
From the time the house was built until 1997, it remained in the Morrison Family. By that time, there were no family descendants residing in La Porte, and it was placed on the market. There were offers to purchase it, including one from the First United Methodist Church, a neighbor to the south, whose intent was to tear it down to make a parking lot. She did not want this to happen or to have it altered in any way.
In accordance with the family’s wishes, the house was donated to Indiana Landmarks in 1997. There were a number of protective covenants placed on the property for the prospective buyer. The property cannot be subdivided. The interior woodwork cannot be painted nor certain other original features altered. The house can be only a single-family house, a bed-and-breakfast, or a meeting space such as a club-owned lodge.
Read more about this historic home, and many others in La Porte, in Preserve Historic La Porte’s book Historic Architecture of La Porte Indiana: The First 20 Years of the Candlelight Tour, available through Preserve Historic La Porte or the La Porte County Historical Society Museum.