When I first heard the name Morris Ranch, a mid-1880s community didn’t spring to mind. Nor did I expect to find multiple old buildings in various stages of decay and restoration. The story of the Morris Ranch is fortunately well documented and it’s a story with a happy ending – at least in so far as the buildings are concerned. Francis Morris, a broker from New York, purchased nearly 22,000 acres of land in Gillespie and Kerr counties in the early 1880s. The price he paid was a mere 25 cents per acre. Unfortunately he died in 1886 before he had an opportunity to see his land.
His son, John A. Morris, inherited the property and converted the ranch to a mecca for raising and training thoroughbred horses. John built a hotel for ranch customers and guests, a post office, a school, a cotton gin, a general store and a flour mill. In addition he built a training track, stables, and accommodations for jockeys. In its heyday, the Morris Ranch approximately 200 mares and ten stallions. Yearling colts were either sold or sent back east to Morris’ stables in Maryland. One of the most notable trainers in residence at the ranch was Max Hirsch – a Hall of Fame Thoroughbred horse trainer.
In the late 1800s, laws were changed in New York State which adversely impacted the horse racing industry and sent it into decline. The fate of Morris Ranch suffered as well. In 1902, one of the Morris heirs, Clayton Morris, sold the horses and subdivided the ranch into tenant cotton farms. In 1954, the post office and the general store were closed. However, several buildings remain and have been preserved by their owners. I don’t have complete information, but I believe the two buildings on the southwest corner of Morris Ranch Rd. and Morris-Tivydale Rd. are the hotel and general store. Across the road to the east is what I believe are the remains of the flour mill.
The Morris Ranch School was built in 1983 and continued in operation until 1962 when it merged with the Fredericksburg school district. The school building, which often doubled as a house of worship, was designed by Alfred Giles, who designed numerous courthouses throughout Central Texas. The school building, on Morris Ranch Rd., is still standing and has been converted to a residence. Unfortunately, it sits behind a high fence and gates, which prevents getting a good photograph from the road. However, you can still see enough to appreciate its grand design. I can only imagine how it looked when it was first built.
For more images of the Morris Ranch, visit the Lost, Texas gallery here.