Where Are Your Kids Playing?

When George L. Morris died on March 26, 1909 his wife, Jane Morris, conceived the idea of the Morris Memorial which would be used as a community center that would allow men and boys to enjoy a social atmosphere and improve their lives in the community. The Morris was officially opened on December 7, 1910. At the time of its opening membership was limited to boys and men over the age of 12 who were asked to pay an annual fee from $1.00 to $10.00 depending on their financial capabilities. Three years later, in 1913, the Morris Memorial opened its membership to include women. By the end of that year women’s membership grew to 172 members.

If one were to enter the Morris in 1910 you would walk into the reception hall, to the right you would find a library full of classic literature and to the left the “Social Room” originally used for games and social events. Upstairs  were four classrooms which in the year 1942  were used  for  Chatham kindergarten classes, the Red Cross, and other organizations and meetings for a fee of $50 per year. Over the gymnasium, one would find a running track which was also used as a spectator’s gallery for sporting events. If you were to walk downstairs you would find a locker room equipped with baths and showers to your left  and a four lane bowling alley to your right.

At the end of the year in 1912 there were twenty one separate organizations that used the Morris for meetings, lectures, and paid activities. Free entertainment attracted 5,000 people a year, while paid activities brought as many as  2,500 people. Activities included lectures on topics such as coal mining, the weather bureau, birds and travel. In addition to the lectures and frequent  meetings there were also many sports competitions that took place, including but not limited to basketball, bowling, boxing, fencing and gymnastics.

The following interesting facts regarding operation of the Morris were taken from minutes from past board meetings between the years of 1942 to 1947:

December 17, 1942: The Social Room was officially finished and called the Rumpus Room. This room was used for teen dances on Friday and Saturday nights and was considered a dance club amongst the town. This room allowed teens to smoke as young as age twelve with parent’s consent.

  • November 8, 1943: The Morris Board received a letter from the USO, United Services Organizations, asking if the Morris might be used to accommodate returning soldiers from the war, as the Chatham Railroad Station was the transfer point between Albany-Boston and Pittsfield-Pine Plains. The Board agreed that all facilities would be open for free to all armed forces members and the Morris would be reimbursed by the USO.
  • March 23, 1944: An African American soldier requested to use the facilities at the Morris. After a two month period and a meeting with the Board of Trustees, the Morris finally allowed him to enjoy their facilities.
  • 1944: The Rumpus Room was fixed up according to the USO and soldier’s desires and was even equipped with a writing table.
  • February 15, 1946: The Board banned a man from the all Morris facilities for use of profane language
  • On April 11, 1946 discussions were brought up by a Mr. R. Hughson that the Morris be used as an open recreational center and be called Morris Memorial Association. They would hire a recreational manager that would direct all recreational activities at the Morris and in the village of Chatham. The Board agreed on this as long as things did not change with their club and memberships, there was a distinction made between the Morris Memorial Cooperation and the Morris Memorial Association.

The Morris became the center of social and recreational events in the town of Chatham and most of Columbia County. Hosting balls for Columbia Memorial Hospital, putting on an annual Halloween Party for the town and providing Chatham High School with sport equipment were just some of the many services that the Morris provided.

The Morris Memorial currently houses a free after school program Monday through Friday for local youth.  Basketball, floor hockey, arts and crafts, ping pong, foosball, pool, board games, the Wii gaming system,computer classes and homework help are offered. In addition the Morris partners with local artists and agencies to offer enrichment classes.  Some of these classes  have included foreign language instruction, Shadow Puppetry Workshop, Eco Arts and Action Workshop, Intro to Forensics , Party Planning and Gift Giving Using Recyclables  and an Adult Writing Workshop.  The Morris also plays host to many community groups and classes, ie) Family Resource Centers, Karate, Aikido, Tai Chi, Children’s Peace Choir, Girl Scouts, The Unicycle Club, Film Columbia and Sean’s Run.  The Morris Memorial Association also facilitates the youth soccer, basketball and track and field programs.  Last year 315 children participated in the recreational soccer program held at Crellin Park while 160 participated in the basketball program held on Sunday mornings at the Chatham Middle School.

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