This was originally posted to: Guemes Island Historical Society

Famly History of Jim Morrison and his Connection to Milling and Guemes Island – April 9, 2018

Jim’s son, Ken Morrison, introduced tonight’s guests: Ken’s Aunt Marjorie Kilbreath (sister of Jim) and her husband Dean Townsend; long-time friend and fishing buddy, Char [Charles] Gilkey and his wife Marilyn Volwiler (whose Grandfather, John Morrison, was brother of Jim’s grandfather, James Morrison); Jim’s daughter Katie & her husband Dick Johnson with son Ole; and Ken’s wife Jenni with son Brent Morrison.

Jim’s grandfather was one of six brothers – John, James, William, Archie, Robert, and Joseph (died early) who came from New Glasgow, Ontario. His grandmother was of the Clarkson family which was involved in farming and had some small mills in the Lynden-Ferndale area.

Ken prompted Jim to describe the people and landmarks in the slides, shown on the big screen. 

The Morrison Mill Company was founded in 1893 with the first mills in Blaine and Bellingham.  In 1913, Jim’s great-uncle, Archie, bought the Fidalgo Lumber & Box mill in Anacortes.  In 1918, the Old Oregon mill in Anacortes was purchased and it became the third Morrison Mill.  There was a big fire at the mill in 1923.  All was lost but the saw mill.  The big brick stack visible in many pictures of Anacortes was built shortly after the fire.

Log booms, towed by Gilkey Towing, delivered logs to the mill.  Some tows came through Deception Pass before the bridge was built (in 1936).  The Morrison Mill specialized in spruce, mostly from the Olympic Peninsula.  Logs often over 10-feet in diameter would be dragged up out of the water and chains would carry them to the deck. As they entered the mill, they would roll down a ramp and slam against the carriage, which often made the ground shake!  Logs larger than 10-feet in diameter would be split in two with dynamite so they could fit on the carriage.

Spruce was light and strong - used for helicopter blades, scaffolds, piano sounding boards, diving boards, cutting boards and even “Spitfire” aircraft.  Wooden boxes were one of the main products before WWII; spruce was best to use for food shipments since fragrance was low. The mill quit making boxes after WWII, and the advent of cardboard.

The Blaine mill sold in 1935.  In 1941 the Bellingham mill was sold to West Coast Paper, which later became Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co., then Georgia-Pacific. In 1947 the Anacortes mill was sold to Coos Bay Pulp which later became Scott Paper Company.

The Morrison family was still involved in the Anacortes mill, which was then operating as the Morrison-Ozzette Spuce Co.  Jim's father's cousins, Fraser and Bob Morrison, managed the mill for many years.  During this time, Fraser bought 700 acres of forest on the east end of Guemes Island.  It was logged to supply the mill until 1955. A small companion mill was set up in Cook's Cove, where some logs were squared-up en route to the mill in Anacortes.  The logged land was sold to a developer and became Holiday Hideaway in 1962. 

When the Morrison Mill closed down in 1955, it was being run by Jim, long-time mill employee and partner, Harry Cornell, and 13 highly skilled workers from the mill's heyday.

Before she was married, Jim’s mother, Miriam McPhail, was a teacher in a 2-room school house on Cap Sante.  Her landlord was Elsie Leatherwood.  Elsie's son, Bob, was one of Miriam's  students. As Longtime Guemes residents will recall, Bob served as a crewman and captain aboard three Guemes ferries: the Guemes, Almar and current  Guemes.

Jim grew up in Blaine and graduated from high school there in 1947.  His grandfather had set aside money to send him to college.  Jim was perfectly happy at the mill but went to Willamette University in Oregon where he met his wife-to-be Fran Otto [1930-2009].  They were married in 1949; their first child born before Jim's graduation in 1951. After graduating, he came to work at the Anacortes mill.  Having not grown up in Anacortes, Jim met his friends Char Gilkey and Charlie Funk through an office mate at the mill, Joann Erholm (who later married Char).

Jim’s first job was as time-keeper at the Morrison Ozette Spruce Co.  As low man on the totem pole, he was recruited to drive a new “Hyster” (lumber carrier) from Portland to Anacortes to save shipping costs. The carrier was tall, ungainly and difficult to steer, as all four wheels turned. The 250-mile drive proved to be a real adventure.

In 1989 Jim & Fran moved to Guemes full time, having been retired for a few years.  Jim was first introduced to Guemes when he began visiting his father’s cousin, Bob Morrison and his wife Georgia, at their cabin on Lervick in the late 1930s.  A few years later, around age 12, he began spending his summers with them.  He spent one summer living in one of Henrietta’s (Bubbles’s) cabins.  Jim would fish with his aunt Georgia by rowboat off Indian Village, where the posts from the longhouse were still visible in those days.

By 1944, Jim’s parents, Miriam and Ken, had bought land on Lervick (between Henrietta and Georgia & Bob) and north of Indian Village.  They built a few small cabins on Lervick, which eventually went to their daughter, Marj Kilbreath.  In the 1940s, teenage Jim rowed up from Lervick to the land near Indian Village to cut a clearing for a house that his parents never built.  (Instead they moved into a midcentury modern masterpiece on Yokeko Point that Marj kept in the family for half a century.) 

In the early-1950s, Jim secured permission from his parents to build a small, removable cabin near Indian Village for his wife Fran and their young children Kate and Ken.  The land near Indian Village eventually went to Jim, and in 1970 when he built the cabin where he lives now, Clyde Lemaister towed the removable cabin through heavy thicket to his property next door, where it presently stills stands (pending Sally Lemaister’s construction project).

From 1970 to 1989, Fran and Jim used their new cabin as a vacation home. They enjoyed many happy times there.  Jim often entertained his lumber-industry clients there, with many successful fishing trips on Bellingham Channel.

In 1980, Jim and Charlie Funk bought property directly across West Shore Road owned by the Barneys.  Having been logged decades earlier, it was a naturally-forested second-growth stand. Eventually, Charlie sold his interest in the property and Jim harvested a portion of it and then reforested. Over the years, Jim and his family have tended to this stand.  After about ten years, he and neighbor, Marcus Merrow, spent many weeks removing the lower branches for better tree health and value, and reduced fire danger. Jim owns a portable mill and still enjoys turning logs into lumber.

Jim has memories of ferry changes.  Moving the dock from the end of Q Avenue to the current I Ave location was a welcome change; it made the crossing much faster. In the old days, the loading ramp was a float that went up and down with the tide.  It was quite simple compared to today's ramp system.

Henrietta “Bubbles” Finley was a neighbor to the Morrisons.  One day Jim's sister Marj may give a history talk about their famous neighbor.