MORGAN HILL IN Port Townsend is named for the man who was one of the city’s earliest property developers, Capt. Henry E. Morgan.
Between 1858, when he first sailed into the Puget Sound Area, and his death in 1905, he bought, sold and participated in the development of major areas in Port Townsend and its vicinity.
Morgan was born in Groton, Conn., on Oct. 30, 1824, the fourth of 10 children from Elisha and Caroline Morgan.
He came of age there and in Meriden, Conn., where he married Catharine A. “Kate” Button in 1848.
In 1849, he became one of a group of 80 people who purchased and fitted out the bark Selma to sail to San Francisco to seek their fortunes in the gold rush.
Once he had arrived there, Morgan did not go to the gold fields but joined the company of John Van Pelt transporting goods up the river to Sacramento from San Francisco.
In 1850, Morgan went to sea for two years, working his way from ordinary seaman to master and circumnavigating the world.
He returned to San Francisco in 1852 and worked on the bay for six years.
In 1858, as master and part owner of a schooner, he sailed to Puget Sound.
He saw the possibilities for settlement in this area, sold his interest in the ship and settled first on a farm on Whidbey Island near Coupeville.
In 1860, he purchased a portion of the Ruel Ross donation land claim at North Beach and dug a ditch and tidal gate to drain the large pond and create land for farming at what later was known as the Chinese Gardens.
Twenty years later, he sold the land to Lawrence Smith, who improved the drainage system and leased the land to Chinese immigrants, who raised produce to sell to the townspeople.
In 1864, Morgan moved to Port Townsend for the first time.
In 1866, he purchased 60 acres of the Pettygrove donation land claim on what is now known as Morgan Hill.
In the 1870s, he built several houses for sea captains along Tyler Street between Lawrence and Blaine streets. The locals called the area Captain’s Row.
By the mid-1860s, Morgan had purchased land on Protection Island and was farming there.
In a letter to his father dated June 30, 1867, six months after the move to the island, Morgan wrote, “You will see by this that I am living on the Island and find any amount of work that needs doing.
“I am preparing to put in almost all of the available part of the Island into wheat next year, and am raising my seed and working off the grass this year.
“I want to take it all up and will seed it down in some kind of grass that will not tramp out like the native grass that is on it now.
“Consequently I shall take a couple of crops of wheat off it and then seed down a part for hay and part for grazing.”
Morgan did not live on the island long enough to carry out his plans.
The land did not prove hospitable to crops for him or for John Powers, to whom he sold the land in 1875.
Morgan and Kate adopted a daughter, Kate, born in California, who came to live with them in Port Townsend in 1872, when she was 10 years old.
When she was 23, she married Daniel Hill, the son of pioneer pharmacist N.D. Hill, and they raised their family a few blocks away on Fillmore Street.
In 1875, Morgan built a house for his family at what is now 809 Tyler St.
By the late 1880s, the family was living at 857 Tyler St., having sold the earlier house to William Harned.
The elder Kate and Morgan lived there for the remainder of their lives.
For a number of years, after Morgan planted maple trees to line both sides of the street, that section of Tyler was named Maple Avenue.
In 1885, with the prospect of growth in Port Townsend from the anticipated railroad, Morgan platted his land on Morgan Hill and began selling lots in what he named the Mountain View Addition.
The lots sold well, with many purchased as investments. Some were purchased by Seattle pioneer David Denny.
At about that same time, Morgan began building a palatial hotel — a three-story building with a large tower.
He ran out of money when the outside of the hotel was finished, but the doors and windows were not yet in place.
It was located in the cleared area of what is now Sather Park on Morgan Hill, and was visible from both the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Port Townsend Bay.
For several years, the tower was used by rival tugboat firms as a lookout for ships coming up the strait.
Lookouts for stevedoring — a person employed or a contractor engaged at a dock to load and unload cargo from ships — crews also used it to spot the weekly steamer from San Francisco bringing fresh fruits and other merchandise for local businesses.
When the ship was sighted, a crew could be rushed to the docks to be ready to unload it when it docked.
The unfinished building passed through several owners and was finally purchased at a tax sale by Father Maniloux of the Catholic Church.
On July 15, 1912, the rear portion of the building collapsed into the basement. In a storm in December 1916, the tower collapsed and soon after that, the building was razed.
Looking to build college
In 1888, Morgan was one of a group of citizens including John Calhoun, Loren B. Hastings, C.W. Hunt and F.W. Smith who decided to build a college in Port Townsend.
Articles of incorporation were drawn up and a site was chosen on the western edge of Morgan Hill.
A large three-story frame building was raised and the Port Townsend and Northwestern Normal College began operating in the fall of that year.
The Oct. 20, 1889, Port Townsend Leader published an article describing the program offered: “There are three courses in the regular college department — the English course, requiring two years, the scientific, three years; and the classical, four years. … The College is aimed to supply what this section has long needed and it is destined to become a great educational institution in the not distant future.”
Unfortunately, probably due to funding problems, the school disbanded after only two years in operation.
In 1891, the building was sold to the Port Townsend School District and was used to relieve congestion at Central School for about two years.
After that, the district rented the building out as a residence for many years until it was condemned as unsafe in 1918.
In May 1928, it was demolished by a local man “in exchange for half the salvage.”
Morgan also was one of the developers of the Tyler Street dock, built in the late 1880s, and he managed the dock for many years until shortly before his death.
It was one of the largest wharves in town.
After it was founded in 1891, the L.B. Hastings Steamboat Co. operated from this dock.
The Tyler Street dock also served as local headquarters for vessels on the Alaska run during the gold rush in 1898.
Morgan’s nephew, Donald Fish, took over the dock from his uncle and operated a warehouse there for his hay and grain business.
In the 1920s, a portion of the dock was leased to the Coast Guard as a base from which to work to control “rum runners” during Prohibition.
In 1936, the Leader reported the collapse of the dock: “The old wharf … collapsed on a perfectly calm day. At the time the tide was at extreme ebb, putting too great a strain on the under piling. Eyewitnesses said the piling toppled in a manner similar to the falling, one against the next, of a string of dominos …”
No one was injured, the debris was removed, and the dock was never rebuilt.
In the 1890s, Morgan believed that a large vein of high-grade coal was located near Scow Bay on Marrowstone Island.
He did extensive drilling in the effort to find it but finally gave up after boring 900 feet into the ground with no success.
He lost a great deal of money in this enterprise.
In spite of the lack of success of some of his ventures, Morgan was a respected member of the community.
He served two terms as a Republican representative in the Territorial Legislature beginning in 1863.
For six years in the 1870s, he held the appointive office of inspector of hulls and boilers for the Puget Sound District.
He also was an active member of the Masonic Lodge.
In an 1889 “History of the Pacific Northwest” volume, Morgan’s biographical sketch indicated that he was “now one of the largest property owners of the city … esteemed by his acquaintances and honored by the citizens of the town in which he lives.”
In 1898, Morgan’s youngest sister, Sarah, came to live with the Morgans.
By the time of Morgan’s death at age 80 in October of 1905, his nephew, Donald, was also living with him.
Sarah stayed on in the house until her death in 1918.
Kate had died in 1901, aged 72, after being ill with paralysis for more than a year.
Donald married in 1925 and in 1939 moved to Seattle, where he operated a grocery store until his death in 1951.
Morgan’s obituary in the Leader stated: “He was a man of great energy and was never contented unless accomplishing something, and this may be said to have been true of him until the time of his death.”
He had reportedly been in good health until an hour before his death from heart failure.
Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.
Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.
Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear July 16.