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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Edward S. Morrill, 50-year Skagit journalist
and his famous uncle, Senator Justin S. Morrill

By Noel V. Bourasaw, publisher, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2003
(Edward S. Morrill)
Edward S. Morrill, 50 years as editor of Skagit and Sedro-Woolley newspapers

      Edward S. Morrill may have set a record as a journalist in Skagit county after moving here in 1885. He worked in various departments of Skagit newspapers for more than fifty years. Always known here as Ed, Morrill had a unique perspective for a regional editor because of his deep roots back in Vermont.
      Morrill's ancestors emigrated to New England from England in 1632. Two brothers in what was then called the Braintree Party were passengers on the sailing ship Lyon. They landed in Boston and Ed's branch of the family eventually settled in Vermont. Ed was born there in the town of Pittsfield, then lived in Fair Haven and later attended high school in the town of Plymouth, where his father ran a sawmill. He was a senior there at Plymouth High when future president Calvin Coolidge was his freshman classmate.

Ed's famous uncle, Senator Justin Morrill
      Although Coolidge's politics may have pleased him in the 20th century, Ed learned politics as a boy, observing his uncle, the legendary Senator Justin Smith Morrill. Although a New Englander, Justin Morrill was one of the key supporters of a bill for land grant colleges that is very important to states west of the Mississippi. He also put his stamp on Statuary Hall, the Library of Congress, the Washington monument and the Smithsonian, and even has his portrait on a stamp. He spent 43 years in Congress and Edward spent a lot of time at Justin's mansion in Strafford, Vermont, which was a center of learning and the arts for both locals and political associates. Strafford is about 60 miles from Edward's hometown, located to the northeast beyond Rutland and south of the state capitol, Montpelier.
      Justin Morrill was born in Strafford in 1810 in very humble surroundings, the son of a blacksmith. After just two high school terms at Thetford and Randolph Academies, he was forced to leave school and become a merchant's clerk to help support his family. He clerked in his hometown and then in Portland, Maine, until 1831 and then returned to Strafford, where he ran a general store for 17 years. By 1848, he was so successful in his pursuits that he was able to retire at age 38. He tried his hand at farming and he initially decided to study architecture and landscape gardening. Along the way, he designed and built a 17-room Gothic Revival mansion on a hill above town and it has since been turned into a historic landmark. As a biographer notes, Justin Morrill "founded a subscription library in 1827, helped start a lyceum in Vermont in 1831, began to acquire his own library in the 1830s, and when he traveled west in 1841, kept a careful record of his observations. He eagerly studied and absorbed the learning and style of Victorian American." [See website:]

(Justin Smith Morrill)
Justin Smith Morrill

      He probably could have led the life of landed gentry, but in 1854, Vermont politics was turned upside down as the Democrat party splintered over the issue of slavery, and the Whigs, who had ruled the state for 20 years, experienced death throes. The Whigs convinced Morrill to end his retirement and run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He won that first election and did the Whigs' bidding, but in 1856 he changed allegiance to the new Republican party and from then on, worked carefully to become a leader in the House in that party.
      He did not write the Land Grant College Act of 1861, but he worked as his party's floor manager and parliamentarian to defeat the states rights opposition to it. That group opposed the federal government interfering with sales of public land, unless it favored the railroads. Justin Morrill championed the act out of personal conviction. Remembering how he was unable to attend college, he wanted to create in each state a college that would provide a liberal and practical education for farmers, mechanics, artisans and laborers and teach courses in science, agriculture and engineering, in addition to the classics. The act was signed by Republican President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, during the Civil War and set aside a total of 30,000 acres, parts in each representative's district, to fund the new land grant colleges. In turn, the schools developed scientific research programs that improved farming techniques for the settlers who were swarming into the new Western territories and taking advantage of government offers of free land and homesteads that cost just $1.25 per acre. His legacy is 105 land-grant colleges nationwide with more than 20 million graduates.
      His second major act as a representative was to propose what we now call the Statuary Hall. Initially built as a second chamber for the House, it was one of the earliest examples of Greek revival architecture in America and is now located between the Rotunda and the House wing. In April 1864, Justin Morrill proposed that the vacant building should house sculptures of great Americans and that each state should contribute two sculptures, created from bronze or marble, for permanent display. He demonstrated his clout by winning passage of his bill by July and his vision helped reform the concept of Union after the end of the Civil War, a year later.
      By 1866, Justin Morrill had amassed enough power and favors that he was elected by Vermont state legislators to fill the open U.S. Senate seat and he served in the upper body for another 31 years until his death in 1898. As a senator, he was able to indulge his love for architecture as the eventual chairman of the finance committee and member of the committee on buildings and grounds. He saved the funding for the land-grant schools by helping pass the second Morrill Act of 1880. In 1879, Senator Morrill was a leader of the movement to establish a permanent building for the Library of Congress and it was completed in 1897, just a year before he died.
      In 1880, Senator Morrill introduced S.1805, "A Bill Relative to Revolutionary Battlefields," an act that helped chartered historical societies and associations all over the country in the following decades to commemorate battlefields and set aside land. If it met the requirements, the society or association would "be entitled to one dollar from the Treasury of the United States for every dollar actually raised by its own efforts." This bill was fought from the beginning and amended to apply to just one battlefield. But the concept proved sound and other bills followed, expanding the matching grant idea. Those series of bills led to revival of the idea first proposed in 1936 for a monument to George Washington. Morrill helped push the idea again in 1876 and the completed Washington Monument was dedicated on the first president's birthday, February 22, 1885. Senator Morrill also served as regent of the Smithsonian Institution from 1883-1898.

(Morrill homestead)
The Morrill family at Justin Morrill's homestead at Strafford

      Justin Morrill established a reputation as one of Vermont key leaders and the state is dotted with tributes to him, including his mansion and a highway near Strafford. Sen. Jim Jeffords and others added to the tributes in 1999 when they worked to get the new 55-cent stamp issued with Morrill's portrait.

Ed Morrill arrives in Ship Harbor in 1885
      We only have a handful of articles about Edward S. Morrill, but they give a pretty good picture of the man, both younger and older. He told an interviewer in 1953 that he trained as a journalist while still in Vermont. As far as we know, he lived in a triangle of towns south of Montpelier, all close to Rutland, home of famous newspaperman Harry Levins. Using Coolidge's birth year as a reference, we think Ed was born in about 1869. One story from 1939 notes the date of his arrival here in Skagit county as Jan. 10, 1885, which means he must have lit out for the (Washington) territory as soon as he finished high school.
      He landed first in Ship Harbor, the town that was then located at today's international ferry landing and later expanded to include the present town of Anacortes. He was soon lauded as one of the first bicycle riders in the county and he often took a steamer from LaConner to Bellingham where friends from Vermont lived; perhaps they lured him out here in the first place.
      When historian John Conrad eulogized Ed in 1955, he noted that soon after Ed landed in the county the Vermont teenager was offered a logging job by the firm of Millett & McKay when they were clearing the future town of Burlington. In 1891, he met T.W. Soules, a fellow Vermont transplant who was platting the proposed town. Soules named Burlington for his hometown in Vermont and named the main east-west street, Fairhaven, after Morrill's favorite Vermont town.
      When he married Mrs. Dixie Byrd late in his life on Saint Patrick's Day, 1942, the Courier-Times story reported that Ed's first newspaper job here in the county was as a circulation man. He ended his half-century career the same way in the 1950s, selling subscriptions for the Courier-Times while riding around the Sedro-Woolley area on another bicycle. In the early days, he helped start the original Anacortes American for the Allmond and Boynton company in 1890 and he also helped Elden Pollock start the Mount Vernon Argus later in that decade. After the turn of the century, he helped start the Skagit County Courier in Sedro-Woolley in 1901. He wrote and edited for at least five or six newspapers in the county, finally winding up back at the Courier-Times at the end of his career when he was nearing 80.
      According to the 1942 story, Ed and his wife, Dixie, moved to a home on the Lyman highway. He often visited John Conrad's service station on the Burlington highway and regaled the historian with stories of his early days in Burlington. He also told of how he was obliged in the days before railroads to walk or ride a horse to LaConner, where he sailed his own boat to Bellingham. The 1953 story noted that he was a lifetime member of Knights of Pythias and also belonged to the Free and Accepted Masons Lodge of Burlington.
      As far as we know, Ed and his wife never had children and he was never married before. We do not know if Dixie had children in her first marriage, but we know that she was from Springfield, Missouri. We also know that Justice of the Peace F.E. Tucker married the couple in Tucker's Burlington home and a Mr. and Mrs. S.P. Davis attended them. Maybe descendants of those families will read this story. Conrad noted that sometime in the early 1950s, Ed moved into a rest home in Burlington and then moved to Bellingham just before his death. As always, we hope that a reader can help fill in the gaps.

Logs of early newspapers

Story posted on Dec. 20, 2003
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