Library & Archives
Doris K. Handzo
Gregory J. Plunges
Monmouth County Historical Association
70 Court Street
Freehold, New Jersey 07728
This collection consists of the papers of four members of the Morris family, a Quaker family from Philadelphia. Specifically the papers concern two summer houses which members of the family built on the ocean front in Sea Girt, NJ. Because of their interest in this real estate, the Morris' became involved with the physical and political development of Sea Girt.
Elliston P. Morris (d. 1914 Dec 3) bought his property in Sea Girt in December 1875 and built two very large houses, called "cottages" in the manner then used to describe the summer homes of the wealthy. On his death he willed one house, "Avocado", to his daughter, Elizabeth Canby Morris, and the other, "Cedar Mer" to his son, Marriott C. Morris. Avocado was sold in December 1947, and Ceder Mer in May, 1951.
The original patent for the land which became Sea Girt was awarded to John Hance on 1687 November 4. The property was afterward conveyed to John Morton who conveyed it to Thomas Sherman. For many years local people made an annual trip to the sea at this location to picnic and swin with their families.
In the early part of the nineteenth century the 800 acres which comprised Sea Girt were divided into two farms owned by men named Bell and Sherman. In 1835 Commodore Robert Stockton bought the farm from John Sherman and in 1847 Dr. Charles Montrose Graham of New York City bought the Bell farm.
Robert Stockton was born in Princeton and rased at Morven, the home of his grandfather Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He built a 35 room mansion facing the ocean in 1835 and also laid out a three quarter mile race track where the Crescent is now. Stockton had a distinguished career in the Navy and the US Senate and was a personal friend of Andrew Jackson, one of whose horses ran at this track.
Commodore Stockton died in 1866 and his land was purchased by the Sea Girt Land Improvement Co in 1869. His house became the nucleus of the large Stockton Hotel which was destroyed by fire in 1965. The land was later divided into building lots.
In 1887 the State of New Jersey bought the tract from the railroad station to the ocean as a camp for the National Guard. It is still used by the National Guard Encampment and the State Police Academy.
The Little White House was the New Jersey exhibit at the Luoisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904 and was later moved to the National Guard grouds. It was used as a summer residence by New Jersey governors until Robert Meyner, and was torn down in the early 1970s. Woodrow Wilson was staying here when he learned of his nomination to the presidency.
One of Sea Girt's best known landmarks is the lighthouse which was erected in 1897. In 1921 it became one of three radio beacons on the east coast in regular service. It was discontinued in 1928.
In 1917, Sea Girt, which until then had been part of Wall Township, was incorporated as a borough.
DESCRIPTION OF COLLECTION
The Morris papers relate to two rather separate fields of interest. The first is the actual maintenance of the houses themselves. There are documents and letters dealing with the buying and selling of the property and contracting of services necessary to maintain it. The collection includes tax bills, tax appeals and utility bills.
Although they were only summer residences, the Morrises concerned themselves vigorously with township matters which they felt affected them directly as property owners. Beach erosion was a constant worry and they corresponded about jetty placement with their friends and neighbours and with the Borough. There were also engineers' blue prints of jetties and reports of consultants in this field.
In the 1920s, the Borough made several attempts to build a boardwalk along the ocean and these efforts were forcefully resisted by the Morris family and many of their neighbors with ocean front property. These people felt that a boardwalk would change the nature of Sea Girt and lower property values not only along the ocean, but in the rest of the Borough as well. In addition to correspondence, there is the complete text of a 1929 Taxpayer's Hearing on this matter.
In 1882 Elliston Morris, with Hibbard Yarnell, was directly involved in an injuction against the Sea Girt Land Improvement Co. restraining them from opening any streets or avenues through Crescent Park or using any part of it as a public highway. This matter came up again in 1915 when Marriott Morris evoked the injunction which he said had forbidden the cutting of new streets in perpetuity. The text of the injunction is in the collection with other papers which pertain to it.
These papers have a historical and political rather than a genealogical value. They could be used to shed light on an important part of the lives of three generations of the Morris family, but there is very little that is personal in any of the documents and letters. They do, however, add considerably to the body of knowledge about problems which Sea Girt faced in the past, and, in the case of beach erosion, still faces today. The attitudes of many prominent taxpayers in Sea Girt in the early part of the 20th century are clearly shown by the letters they wrote and the petitions they signed.
The arrangement of the collection is described at the beginning of the container list.
PROVENANCE: Acquired in 1980, a gift from Sarah Potts Benson (Mrs. Lewis Benson) of Moorestown, NJ, a cousin of the second Elliston P. Morris.
SIZE OF COLLECTION: 386 items
1. Elliston P. Morris (d. 1914 December 3) Papers, 1875 - 1916
Series contains property deeds to the Sea Girt property, a copy of the injuction against the Sea Girt Land Improvement Co. concerning Crescent Park, correspondence and clippings on the development of Sea Girt. There are various bills for utilities and maintenance of the property, tax bills, rental agreements, plans for water supply and sewage, advertisements for the Sea Girt Land Improvement Co., and a poem on builders by Samuel B. Morris. There is also a pamphlet, dated 1908, on the resort of Sea Girt containing many pictures, an article on fishing for menhaden from the Saturday Evening Post 1913 Feb 22, and material on the inheritance tax on Elliston Morris' estate.
2. Marriott C. Morris (d. 1948 March 2) Papers, 1914 - 1950
Series contains legal documents, including an injunction against the building of a boardwalk in 1931, clippings, correspondence, tax bills, appeals and various township reports. There is also material on beach erosion including reports of consultants and blueprints of jetties. Some notices give activities of the Civic Association and the Taxpayers Association. The series also includes the entire text of a Taxpayers Hearing on the proposed boardwalk, 1929 April 8.
3. Elliston P. Morris Papers, 1947 - 1968
Series contains correspondence, utility, insurance and tax bills, real estate papers pertaining to the sale of Avocado (1947) and Cedar Mer (1951) and clippings of the severe storms on the New Jersey coast in 1962 and 1968.
4. Elizabeth Canby Morris Papers, 1925 - 1947
Series contains letters on proposed jetties, tax bills, some material on the sale of Avocado (1947) and furniture inventories.
5. Miscellaneous Papers, n.d.
Series contains pictures of Cedar Mer, advertisements for rentals, inventories, water company regulations and a Chamber of Commerce list of home repairmen.
BOX # / FOLDER # / CONTENTS
Elliston P. Morris (d. 1914 Dec 3) Papers
1 / 1 / Papers. 1875 - 1902. 40 items
1 / 2 / Papers. 1903 - 1916. 74 items
Marriott C. Morris (d. 1948 Mar 2) Papers
1 / 3 / Papers. 1914 - 1924. 83 items
1 / 4 / Papers. 1925 - 1950. 75 items
Elliston P. Morris
1 / 5 / Papers. 1947 - 1968. 77 items
Elizabeth Canby Morris
1 / 6 / Papers. 1925 - 1947. 13 items
1 / 7 / Papers. n.d., 24 items
1. Butler, F. Cecil, comp. The Sea Girt History. Freehold, NJ: Transcript Printing House, 1926.
2 . Ellis, Franklin. History of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Philadelphia: RT Peck, 1885
This page last updated 4 August 2008.