This history of the Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company, incorporated on December 15, 1921, and situated in east King County at Durham, was written by Betty (Morris) Falk (1920-2006) and originally appeared in the Black Diamond Historical Society newsletter in 1996. Notes and edits were added by William Kombol, manager of the Palmer Coking Coal Company located in Black Diamond. The Palmer Coking Coal Co. is directly descended from Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company, and William Kombol is the grandson of John Henry Morris.
Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company
The Morris Brothers Coal Mining Co., Inc. was incorporated in 1921 but the history of the Morris family and their coal mining roots goes back much further.
George Morris [1856-1936], a Welsh coal miner, emigrated from Wales in 1880 at the age of 24. His wife Mary Ann (Williams) Morris with infant son Abraham followed in 1881. Like many immigrant families they moved across the country, settling first in Peoria, Illinois, where Jonas, Emily, and Elizabeth were born. The family moved on to Idaho where Edward was born. The next move was to Wilkeson, Washington, where six more children (Harriet, John, William, Beatrice, Marian, and Thomas) were born. George found work in the coal mines of eastern Pierce County in and around Wilkeson, and there George and Mary Ann Morris raised their family of 11 children, plus occasional borders and assorted Welsh relatives.
In 1901 George and Abe Morris [1879-1933], father and son, were listed as mine foremen at Wilkeson Coke and Coal Co. [located in east Pierce County] in the annual report of coal mines. Abe was 22 years old at the time. He had started work in coal mines as a trap boy at the age of 9.
In 1911 Abe Morris leased the American Coal Company’s holdings in the Pittsburg-Spiketon area, situated between Buckley and Wilkeson. In 1912 he organized the South Willis Coal Co. with brother Jonas Morris as President and brother-in-law Frank Merritt as Vice President and manager. In 1917, his brother John [Henry] Morris [1894-1973] was listed as office manager of the South Willis Coal Company. This was probably the beginning of the family organization that eventually evolved to become Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company, Inc.
In 1919 the American Coal Co. sold the Morristown (a.k.a. Spiketon) mines. It was about this time that the Morris brothers and brothers-in-law began looking for coal opportunities in southeast King County. The annual report of mines for this year listed Abe Morris as the manager of the Eureka Mine in Cumberland and many family members were working there also. Edward G. Morris purchased the Durham property on behalf of the new company in 1921. The Morris Bros Coal Mining Co. was incorporated on December 15, 1921, and commenced operations at Durham.
The Durham Colliery Co. was originally organized by Peter Kirk in 1886 to supply coal for the projected Kirkland steel mill. Durham was named for a town in Kirk’s native north England. Production was started in 1888 but coal was only mined until 1889. In 1910 the mines were started again and coal was produced throughout World War I. The mines and associated mining facilities were sold as one unit.
Durham was a typical mining camp. It consisted of a brick two-story hotel to house bachelor miners and a cluster of small houses for miners with families. Jonas Morris and his wife Maggie (Phillips) Morris operated the hotel and small store, which served the miners. By 1926, the year of George and Mary Ann’s 50th wedding anniversary, almost every member of the large extended family lived in Durham. George Morris’s sons and sons-in-law worked in various capacities for the company.
Members of the extended family who worked for and managed the company included George Morris, his sons Abe Morris, Jonas Morris, Ed Morris, John H. Morris, William Morris, and Tom Morris; his sons-in-law Frank Merritt, Ben Nichols, Pete Wheeler, and Clarence “Molly” Masters. Extended family members included Rheta Morris, Bern Hale, Bill Merritt, Bob Pierce, George and Jim Thomas, “Welsh Bill” Morris, “Bychan George” Morris, Jack Morris, Evan Morris, George E. Morris, Ted Williams, Nancy (Boots) Morris, and Marian (Morris) Masters.
Between the hotel and the county road was the railroad track, which ran to the mill-town of Selleck. This spur line was used by the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee railroads. It carried lumber from Selleck and coal from Durham and other mines to their markets. Some of the markets for Morris Bros. included Washington Gas & Electric in Tacoma, some of the state institutions, Seattle schools, and retail yards in Seattle.
In 1928 Morris Bros. took over the operation of the Occidental Coal Co. in Bayne. The years following the stock market crash in 1929 were difficult ones for the Morris Bros. as they were for the entire nation. The Morris Bros. continued coal mining at Durham until the early 1930s when Palmer Coking Coal Co. Inc. assumed operations. The Occidental mine’s coal production continued until 1937 under Morris Bros. management and until 1946 under Palmer Coking Coal Company, Inc. management. In total the Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company, Inc. was responsible for the mining and marketing of almost one half million tons of coal in the 16 years from 1922 until 1937, at an average of 29,622 tons per year.
A dwindling coal market and the passing of Abe Morris in 1933 motivated the principals of Morris Bros. to organize a new mining company under the name of Palmer Coking Coal Company, Inc. It was this new Morris family coal-mining venture, which upon the liquidation of Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company in 1937 acquired its remaining assets.
Notes by William Kombol
George Morris (born in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales, on September 29, 1856) father of 11 and grandfather to 17 was involved with the company as an office of trustee until shortly before his death on March 12, 1936, at the age of 79.
Abraham Morris was born in Cwmtillery, Wales, on October 13, 1879 to George Morris and Mary Ann Williams. In the election of 1916, Abe Morris, Republican, was elected to the Washington State House of Representative serving the 35th legislative district, and was re-elected in 1918. The Legislature honored their esteemed colleague when they renamed the east Pierce County town of Spiketon as Morristown. In 1920, Governor Louis F. Hart appointed him State Mine Inspector. There he helped implement the new state mining code that he had helped to write with laws more favorable to miners. He was a thirty-second degree Mason and a prominent Elk. Abe Morris died in Tacoma in April 1933 at the age of 53.