George Morrison, Sr.: Stonemason and Town Founder
As a builder and businessman, George Morrison Sr. left a mark not only on the town that now bears his name, but on the history of the entire area. A stonemason who immigrated to the Mt. Vernon area in 1859, he helped found the Town of Mt. Vernon and built the Mt. Vernon House, seat of the territorial government under Robert Steele, and an important stop for travelers on the Mt. Vernon Toll Road from Denver to the goldfields of the Rocky Mountains. He became a United States citizen on May 22, 1862 (Brown, 1976). George Morrison later moved south to Bear Creek, where he founded the Morrison Stone, Lime, and Town Co., and in 1874 platted the town that became known as Morrison or, briefly, as Mt. Morrison. With Gov. John Evans, he was instrumental in bringing the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad to Morrison in 1874.
As a quarryman, Morrison developed the building stone and other industrial stone (lime, gypsum) of the Morrison/Mt. Vernon area, bringing fame to the region for its high-quality dimension stone. Two of the three stone buildings he built in Morrison, as well as the Mt. Vernon House further north, are still standing; all three surviving buildings are recognized historic sites (National Register of Historic Places, 1976). Before its demolition in 1982, the original Evergreen Hotel, built by George Morrison in 1874, served as the first home of Sacred Heart College (now Regis University), and later as the Mt. Morrison Casino, where J.B. Walker entertained many of the dignitaries he brought to the foothills as part of his promotional enterprises.
The Morrison Schoolhouse Morrison built served the town’s educational needs from its construction in 1875 until 1955, and stands today as a private residence. The Cliff House, built as the Morrison family home in 1873, now provides guest lodging. These landmarks represent a distinctive style of construction and are enduring monuments to George Morrison’s contributions to Jefferson County’s history. Stone for these structures was quarried in his “red sandstone quarry” at the end of the Dakota Hogback near Morrison and in other quarries in the area. Building stone was also shipped to Denver, where it now comprises parts of the Brown Palace, Union Station, and “many of Denver’s early day mansions” (Brown, 1976).
Mt. Morrison behind Red Rocks Park is also named after George Morrison. In the late 1800s, an important regional geologic layer of Late Jurassic age, the Morrison Formation, was also named after the small town of Morrison, and is today famous as the first discovery site of three 150-million-year-old dinosaurs, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and the Colorado state fossil, Stegosaurus. The Morrison Formation covers parts of thirteen western states and has yielded much of our understanding of the extinct animals that lived in the west so long ago.