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Alonzo Morris

a biography by John Franklin Morris and William Lee Morris

written in January 2006

 

 

          Alonzo “Lonnie” Morris was born in Washington, D.C. on October 10, 1877.  His father Robert was a shoemaker and veteran of the Union Army; his mother was the former Emma Orrell of Maryland. Robert and Emma Morris had an amazing fourteen children, but only six survived; of these, Alonzo was the youngest.

          Little is known of Alonzo’s early life; the 1910 Census lists him as a single 30-year old living together with his widowed 70-year mother at 2200 Minnesota Avenue in Southeast Washington, D.C. He is employed by the public school system, though it is unclear in what capacity.

 

Alonzo is seen in this group photo which appears to be a school picture:

 

Alonzo Morris standing at left with arms folded, wearing a dark vest.

 

Another old group photo shows Alonzo standing with an unknown group of baseball players. A neighbor who knew him in his later years says that he often still carried a baseball bat around with him.

 

Alonzo Morris standing at left, with his hands in his pockets.

 

Alonzo’s home was a small apartment above a grocery store, located in a triangular-shaped building which occupied the acute angle formed by the intersection of 22nd Street and Minnesota Avenue. The 1910 Census also records Alonzo’s eldest brother Edward living nearby at 2226 Minnesota Avenue with his wife and six sons, as well as his daughter, her husband and their child.

On March 11, 1916, Alonzo Morris married Anna Elizabeth “Betty” Bradfield in Rockville, Maryland. The Bradfield’s lived about seven blocks away, on Anacostia Road near Minnesota Avenue. Alonzo was thirty-eight at the time, and Betty was just fifteen years and eight months of age. Their marriage, however, would last for fifty years.

Their first child, Clarence Walter Morris, was born four months later, on July 19, 1916 – six days before Betty’s sixteenth birthday. Sadly, Clarence would be taken ill three months later, on Alonzo’s birthday, October 10. Clarence died two days later, on October 12, 1916.

Lonnie and Betty’s second child, Alvin William Morris, was born in their home at 2200 Minnesota Avenue on January 27, 1918. A daughter, Margaret Louise Morris, was born a couple of years later, on October 22, 1920. Sometime after this, the family moved down the street, to a location at 719 Minnesota Avenue.

Alonzo had changed jobs a few times over the years. On his 1917 World War I draft registration card he lists his occupation as a chauffeur, employed by the Washington Steel and Ordnance Company. By the 1920 Census, he was working as a night watchman for the railroad.

 

This is a picture of Betty and the children at the railroad:

 

 

          Unfortunately, tragedy was to strike the family again in April 1936, when daughter Margaret committed suicide by taking poison in a movie theater. The fifteen-year old was evidently a troubled child, as she had run away from home the preceding October, only to be found in Miami, Florida, and returned home in January.

 

Alonzo on the farm with an unidentified child

 

In 1941 Lonnie and Betty purchased a farm property in Churchton, Maryland, nestled in a peaceful cove at the end of a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The farmhouse had been burnt down by the unanticipated explosion of a basement still kept by the previous owners. Until the house could be rebuilt, they lived in a small bungalow which had been built on the property in 1922. As they began to till the fields to plant crops, it was not uncommon to dig up mason jars full of moonshine which had been buried in numerous places. Corn was grown, and cows and pigs were kept on the farm, along with the horses needed for the plowing - the first tractor did not make an appearance until 1957. An apple orchard stretched down to the waterfront; some of those trees still bear fruit to this day.
          One acre of the property was later sold to a friend, Carroll Stone, who built a house for his family there. A blue 1955 Chevrolet station wagon was purchased with the five hundred dollars from the sale. Technology took another leap forward in 1962 when the first telephone came to the farm.

 

This is the house as it appeared in October 1967:

 

 

During some of this time, Lonnie kept his job working as a china packer for the Woodward and Lothrop department store in Washington, D.C. Betty would drive him to nearby Edgewater on Monday morning where he would catch the bus for downtown, and stay for the week in a ten dollar-a-week room before returning on Friday. Alonzo’s job was to unpack china as it arrived at the store. This work offered a fringe benefit, as the china came packed in grass which he would bring home to use as bedding for the livestock – unwittingly contributing to the introduction of a non-native species as he did so. It is said that certain unusual, spiky weeds which still occur on the property can trace their own genealogy back to seeds mixed in with those foreign grasses.


 

Alonzo also participated in the civil defense program.

Here is a photo taken at the Christmas party of a group of air-raid wardens:

 

Alonzo is in the back by the tree, holding his helmet in his hand.

 

Lonnie and Betty lived on the farm for the rest of their lives. Betty passed away in December 1966 at the age of 66, and Alonzo lived for only six months afterward, passing away himself in June 1967 at the age of 89. They are buried together at Woodfield Cemetery in nearby Galesville, Maryland. In 1964, a portion of the land was used to build a home for their son William and his wife Dorothy; this was sold upon Dorothy’s death in 1985. The bulk of the farm remains owned and well-tended by Lonnie’s grandson, also named William.

Here are Lonnie and Betty, along with their grandson William Morris and Trampy the dog:

 

 

 

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