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‘A pioneer of Port Huron’ | Henry G McMorran and DeerLawn

By Derek Smith

The pictures above are some of the last physical clues that the Henry G McMorran mansion existed on what is now a vacant lot “kitty-corner” from Mercy Hospital. The name of the beautiful Henry McMorran house was “Deerlawn.” As you can see in the “pillar photo” above left, the “L” is missing in the Deerlawn name.

There is a small section of ornate fence left on the property along with a couple of gates and a section of a brick wall that contains three separate pillar entrances. The lot is dotted with several mature trees probably planted at the time of Deerlawn’s construction.

A large green field with trees in the background

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A rather large area, I would estimate at two acres or more and is shaped somewhat triangular. (Special thanks to Ava Silverthorn,  my granddaughter, for taking the above photos on such a rainy day)

McMorran also owned land on the riverside across from the mansion on Military Street. He dressed the area with the same brick and pillar façade and some wonderful landscaping. It appears on this postcard below that Military Street was unpaved at the time.

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Riverside Lot

Henry McMorran was born in Port Huron on June 11th, 1844, the oldest child of Robert William, a Port Huron tailor, and his wife, Isabella. 

His father was of Scottish descent and his mother was born on the Isle of Mann in the Irish Sea. 

Story has it that he was educated at the Crawford Private School until about the age of 14.

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           Henry McMorran

McMorran first went to work in 1857 for the W H P Dowling Co. a leading merchant in Port Huron. He remained there for 3 years.

In 1860 he started with the Myron Williams lumber mill in Marysville. He worked there for 5 years.

The mill was sold to Nelson Mills in 1862. Nelson Mills operated 3 specialized mills on the St Clair River near the mouth of Mud Creek.

In 1865 McMorran returned to Port Huron with his fiancée, Emma Caroline Williams, daughter of the owner of the Marysville lumber mill.

They were married in 1866 in Marysville. Together they had five children, Mary Isabelle died at age 10, David William, Clara Emma, Charles Frederick died at age 3, and Emma Josephine. 

Below is a timeline of just a few of the additional activities of Henry Gordon McMorran.

  • general manager of the Port Huron Northwestern railroad
  • involved in its construction and operation. He remained as general until 1889 when it was sold to the Pierre Marquette RR
  • involved in the floor and grain trade which he conducted from silos located where Vantage Point now stands He was employed there until 1909 when he sold out his interest.
  • he helped with the construction of the Port Huron Light Company and was president until 1911 when then it was sold and became the Port Huron Gas Company
  • owner and president of the Port Huron – Sarnia Ferry Company, which included the ferries, Omar Conger, the Grace Dormer, City of Cheboygan, and the James Beard. He was also an owner of the Pawnee Boat Company which included the steamer Pawnee and the barges J R Edwards and M R Orton which were primarily used for the transport of lumber
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         City of Cheboygan later named City of Port Huron. 
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The Pawnee towing lumber barges
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  • President of the Port Huron Savings Bank and he served on the board of directors of First National Bank and the Port Huron Engine and Threshing Company
  • Vice president and part-owner of E B Muller Company, one of America’s largest suppliers of chicory
  • Vice president and part-owner of Flint Paneling Company which made men and women’s garments and was located at 7th Street and Lapeer
  • President of the Michigan Cereal Company which was situated between Wall St and Court St
  • Served as a city alderman in the 1860s and as Port Huron City Treasurer during that same time
  • Five-term congressmen in Michigan’s seventh district serving from 1903 until 1913

In 1905, McMorran’s daughter Emma marries Andrew Murphy, the son of the owner of the Hocking Valley Brick Co. near Columbus, Ohio. Many of the Hocking Valley bricks find their way onto the surfaces of unpaved streets in Port Huron.

After World War I, Andrew J Murphy, McMorran’s son-in-law, along with A J Tyson and himself were partners in the Great Lakes Foundry one of the leading suppliers of flywheels for the Chevrolet company.

An old brick building

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  Great Lakes Foundry
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          .                                           Andrew J Murphy alongside his Cord at Deerlawn

The McMorran house was a beautiful three-story brick structure overlooking the St Clair River. It was modeled after the Hopkins home in St Clair, Mi.

Large double doors greeted guests in the main entrance, which featured magnificent wood paneling and a parlor with a beautiful fireplace. One passes through two French glass doors into the library with a high-beamed ceiling, built-in bookcases, and rich maple dressing on its walls. There is a modern full-size kitchen with an extensive gas range and an impressive dining area featuring another fireplace. 

In 1920, the dining area welcomed presidential candidate William Howard Taft for dinner.

The future President had been invited to Port Huron by Burt D. Cady a well known lawyer and prominent republican.

The south living room is decorated with a high vaulted ceiling bordered with hand-painted roses and sycamore paneling. The second floor contains five bedrooms.

On the third floor, you find a ballroom with a beautiful view of the river. The third floor also served as a schoolroom for the McMorran children where they were taught the 3 “R’s”.

A covered entrance on the side of the mansion was built in 1878.

The lot also featured a barn with a carriage room and surrey. Above the barn was a hay loft.

The riverside lot featured a brick wall with an ornate cast-iron railing. There was also a boathouse and a large waterside deck where one went to pass the day watching the eclectic mixture of river traffic. 

A close up of a snow covered road

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A vintage photo of an old building

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On July 23rd, 1929, Henry G McMorran passed away at the age of 85, leaving behind a legacy of philanthropy and substantial commercial growth to Port Huron. In his will, he left the Deerlawn mansion to his son-in-law Andrew, and his daughter Emma.

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In 1960, Andrew Murphy’s wife, Emma passes away and Andrew dies in 1966.

After Andrew’s death, the mansion is willed to the Sisters of Mercy Hospital as a home for the nuns and a retreat for hospital works.

Unfortunately, the home was demolished in 1971, most probably because of the costs of maintenance and taxes. Most of the home’s historic furnishings are sold to cover the costs of the demolition.

For whatever reason, it was an historic architectural tragedy!

One would think there would have been a much better way to preserve the legacy of one of Port Huron’s most important families! 

Hopefully we can do better, as the present becomes the past and we march on into the future.


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