Sunday, February 04, 2007

Lee Morrison: Photographer Extraordinaire

by David Parmer

Alden Lee Morrison was born in 1867 at Roanoke to William Dexter and Sarah Jane (Allman) Morrison. Lee, as he was known, first married in 1889, Estin Peterson of Peterson Siding1. There were two children born of this union, Mamie and Brooks. In 1903, Lee married for his second wife, Ora Ethel Scarff of Orlando.

Soon after his marriage to Ethel, Lee commenced building his fine two story home on the hill to the south overlooking down town Orlando. In the photo below is the Morrison home, one of the finest in Orlando. It is reported by Lee's granddaughter, Mildred McNemar, that while putting the slate shingles on the roof, Lee slipped and slid off the roof. Luckily the slide was off the rear of the house toward high ground rather than off the front where a fall could have been fatal.
During the latter part of the 19th century photography was still an emerging art, particularly in rural areas. In central West Virginia, farming was the primary occupation. Photographers were far and few between. We don't know where Lee received his training in photography, but we do know that he began his life's work when he was 30 years of age. Orlando was indeed fortunate that Lee chose to ply his trade in this small community. He left behind a rich photographic body of work imprinting memories of Orlando's yesterday for today.
What was the formula for success for a photographer in a small rural town with a small population? Based on the huge body of photographic work left behind by Lee Morrison it is clear that he never missed an opportunity to take a picture. Lee found a willing clientele for his trade.

Note: Farther down this page, the portrait of Lee's daughter and niece is from Lee's studio and the photo of Lee selling to train passengers is also attributed to him. To the right three of Lee Morrison's larger works. Click on the small images to enlarge them.
The first is his own wedding. notice the set up of the characters and the balance. The bride is in the middle of the front row, flanked by her husband and the preacher holding the Bible. Two older men seem standing as sentinels outside the hollow triangle. The oval above is detail from this photograph showing Lee and his bride Ethel.

In the center is a funeral group of a Lodge brother taken in Orlando. Lee provided solemn documentation for a number of his lodge brothers. See how the mass of the hearse is balanced by the mass of the brotherhood, and how the lighter texture of the trees and other mourners frame them and offer visual relief. Note that the white horse is blurry, a reminder that the early technology required a long exposure time.

The bottom of the three shows the devesttion of the Burnsville flood of 1918 in the area of town known as "the Bottom". Notice how small and frail the men appear in the aftermath of nature's power. ( Ed Jeffries is one of the men shown in the photo.)

Lee's studio, or gallery, as he called it, was located just on the southern side of Clover Fork, on the second floor of his two story building. The arrow in the photo below is pointing to his studio. The gallery was replete with backdrops and props to liven up the photograph, to make it solemn, or pastoral, or whimsical, or just plain, old ordinary, whatever the craving of the poser. The front windows of the gallery could be cranked open or closed to adjust the lighting necessary for the perfect picture.

In addition to the gallery location, Lee would also stake out the Union Depot for people changing trains who may have wanted their photos taken to while away the time waiting for the next train. Lee also had a trade in postcards showing the town of Orlando (or Confluence) for sale to the train passengers, or passers through.

Lee was also not adverse to traveling to more "hot spots" for photography if things slowed down in Orlando. Lee, living conveniently close to the railroad lines in Orlando, could box up his gear and take the train to Richwood to photograph timberjacks or coal miners, to Burnsville to photograph the annual floods and fires, or could just climb the various surrounding hills of Orlando to photograph the town from different angles. There was timbering taking place around Orlando, there were teamsters aplenty, there were oil and gas field workers, Saturday "come to town" farmers, and there were many hard working common people who wanted a moment of levity, to dress up and have their likenesses taken by the man behind the camera. Lee was more than willing to accommodate the photo seekers.

Lee's second wife, Ethel Scarff, of Orlando, was the daughter of Joseph Willis Scarff and Sarah Blake Scarff. Lee and Ethel would have three children, Myrtle May, Aaron Ivan, and William E.2 Shown to the right is their daughter Myrtle May posing with her cousin Mamie Morrison, daughter of Lee's brother Lloyd.
Lee, never one to rest, also took advantage of the opportunities to sell food to the train travelers who were passing through Orlando. In addition to operating a restaurant in Orlando, Lee would also prepare hamburgers and hot dogs in advance of train stops and sell them to train passengers from his portable pack. Shown to the left is Lee, with back turned to the camera, plying his burgers to train passengers through open train windows. Mildred McNemar, Lee's granddaughter, and daughter of Lee's daughter, Myrtle May, tells us that if there were any burgers left over which couldn't be sold at the train stop, Lee would signal to his son Ivan to come to the depot and pick up the surplus. We are told that Ivan loved hamburgers.

Life must come to an end and Ethel, Lee's wife, succumbed to diabetes in 1929. Click on the icon to the left to see her funeral card. Lee continued his trips to photograph the work crews timbering Pocahontas County and while there in 1933 suffered a serious stroke. Lee died of complications in 1933. Lee was a member of the I O O F, the Modern Woodmen of American and the Methodist Protestant Church. He and his wife Ethel are buried in the Skinner Cemetery.

Without the life's work of Lee Morrison little would be known of Orlando today, of its heyday, and of its people, and to that alone we owe a debt of gratitude to Lee Morrison, photographer extraordinaire.

1. Peterson's Siding was the next stop going north along the old B&O tracks to Weston. See another entry about a Person's Sidng girl at Virginia McCord of Peterson's Siding
Comment 1 from Dale Barnett
Lee was a photographer. He lived in the large two story white house on the hill across Clover Fork. He also owned a picture gallery on the board walk that crossed Clover Fork beside the B & O railroad in Orlando. Dad said that he would travel to logging camps and other rural areas and take pictures and play poker with the employees of the various locations.
When the picture gallery was torn down for the lumber all of the accumulated pictures and negatives were just dumped on the ground or in the creek. The used lumber was valuable but the contents of the building were not. I can just imagine the photographic history that was destroyed when this happened. It is unfortunate, but no one really was interested in preserving any of this history at the time. Dad remembers looking through them as they lay on the ground as a kid, but to someone his age they were just a curiosity. Clover Fork was full of shards of glass for many years as a result of the glass negatives that were dumped into the creek.
Comment 2 from Mike Morrison
Mike Morrison of Burnsville, grandson of Lee Morrison, recalls that he and his brother Benny as children used to play with Lee Morrison's camera equipment until they wore it out. Mike's father William E Morrison married Ruth Peck, the daughter of Dr. Peck, a former Orlando doctor. Grandson Mike graduated from Burnsville High School, was president of the student body at Glenville State College and is a retired educator. He lives in the Winchester. Virignia area.

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