Jefferson Morrison (born July 15, 1806 in Milton, New York) was one of Grand Rapids's first merchants, having moved to the settlement in 1835 after a brief stint in Detroit, the same year as Lucius Lyon and other founding members of the city. His tradepost was located for a time on the erstwhile Waterloo Street, and he was known to have a good relationship with local Native Americans.

Family

Morrison married Caroline Gill in 1836. After her passing about twelve years later, he married Wealthy M. Davis in 1850. Morrison had five children with each wife.

Real Estate

Morrison built a mansion in 1836 near the corner of Monroe Center and Ionia Avenue or Ottawa Avenue (the exact location is debatable as street names have changed over time). The debt incurred on the project was so great, he eventually traded the house for four parcels of land, which depreciated in value drastically in the subsequent depression.

Morrison owned the land in Ionia County that is now Saranac. He also speculated with land in what is now Cascade.

Political/Civic Service

Morrison served as the Grand Rapids's first probate court judge from August 1, 1836, to December 31, 1844.

Morrison was also a City Supervisor for the Second Ward from 1875-1876.

Religion

Morrison attended St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Division Avenue at Pearl Street, where he was elected as one of the two first Wardens. The other was George Coggeshall.

Legacy

Morrison named three streets in Grand Rapids:

  • Jefferson Avenue after himself
  • Wealthy Street after his second wife, Wealthy (Davis) Morrison.
  • Morrison Street, which no longer exists, and which was entirely removed between 1967 and 1970 as part of the Washington Square Urban Renewal project, allowing for the expansion of St. Mary's Hospital and the building of Mary Free Bed.  Morrison was the first street north of Wealthy, from Jefferson east to Lafayette.

Alternative Currency

Morrison and several other prominent early citizens of Grand Rapids each circulated his own banknotes, called "shinplasters," during a time of depression which followed the initial boom of the settlement.

Trivia/Folklore

The following tale including Morrison was taken from Albert Baxter's 1891 book History of the City of Grand Rapids as cited here.

Henry and Joseph Genia (brothers) came here in 1834 and went into the employ of Louis Campau. There were carpenters by trade. Henry was the elder of the two, and the stronger; both were muscular, though not very large men. It is related that on a certain occasion, when Jefferson Morrison had procured a stock of several barrels of pork, which were ranged along the platform in front of his store, Henry Genia remarked: "I wish the Judge would give me a barrel of that pork; I would shoulder it and carry it home." To do that he must wade the river at the ford, near where Fulton street bridge now crosses. Morrison instantly said: "I will give you a barrel if you will back it home, and you may have one chance to rest, when you reach the other bank of the river; if you put it down more than once I shall charge you the full price." Genia shouldered it, waded the river, backed up to a fence which stood there, on the top of which he placed it and rested a few moments; then shouldered it again and made no further stop until he unloaded it at the door of his dwelling, nearly fifty rods beyond. It was an extraordinary feat, not solely on account of the great weight of the load, but of its form also, making it one difficult to handle and carry in that manner. He lived near the little Catholic Church that was built for the Indians there.