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That 19th-century feel

Historic Downtown Morris in Illinois Bicentennial Passport

MORRIS – Morris is an agricultural community that grew because of its location along the Illinois River, then the Illinois and Michigan Canal and, finally, the railroads as they passed through. That history and growth can be seen in its buildings and downtown.

Downtown Morris was named one of the stops for the Bicentennial Illinois Passport, and one of the places you can visit and receive a stamp.

There are five area sites featured in the Bicentennial Passport, and over the next five weeks, the Morris Herald-News will profile each one. Between July 1 and Nov. 30, participants can receive a stamp in their passport at each site. There are 56 across Illinois. If you mail your passport in, postmarked by Dec. 3, you can be eligible for prizes.

“I’m extremely proud to be a part of downtown,” said Cathy Fleetwood, owner of The Front Porch, located on Liberty Street. “I love the nostalgia of it all.”

The passport notes that the area “retains its 19th-century charm,” and Fleetwood said that’s something she tries to keep in her store, as well.

“I always tell people I want them to come in here and still be people,” she said. “They aren’t a number. ... I want people to come here and remember what it’s like to be trusted.”

The Grundy County Chamber of Commerce did not sponsor the addition of Downtown Morris to the passport, but it does support it. The Chamber sponsored another location, the Grundy County Historical Society Museum.

“I think with any celebration of the state’s bicentennial, Morris has to be on the map,” said Christina Van Yperen, executive director of the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Chamber offices are visitor centers and part of their mission is to get people into the community.

Those travelers certainly help the shops. Sheila Pearcy, co-owner of Ruby Begonia’s on Washington Street, said her customers probably are 50 percent local and 50 percent from out of town.

“They say, ‘You’re so lucky to have such a cute downtown,’ ” Pearcy said. “All of the shops work well together.”

In other towns, where big-box stores on the outskirts have sucked business and money from the old downtowns, they no longer have the atmosphere or even the architecture.

“Morris is one of the few cities where, walking down Liberty Street, it still feels like walking through the 1800s,” Van Yperen said.

Pearcy also noted that many of the events and festivals that happen in Morris and downtown help keep the shops going by bringing in traffic. She’s attended every one of the 3 French Hens Country Markets and said those events bring thousands of people into the city who otherwise wouldn’t be here.

And the shops downtown work together, as well. Fleetwood said its not unlike the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where they send customers to Macy’s when they don’t have the item.

“If they’re going to take the time to drive here, we’re going to take the time to make sure they have a good visit,” Fleetwood said.

Those visiting downtown Morris as part of the passport program can get their passport stamped at the Morris Chop Shop, 701 Liberty St.

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