A Lost Saginaw Tradition – Morley Brothers’ Christmas Windows
In 1863 Edward W. and George W. Morley arrived in East Saginaw and formed a partnership with Anton Schmitz who owned a hardware store. Within a short time, they purchased Schmitz’s share of the store. Morley Brothers would become the second-largest wholesale hardware store in the nation with a huge retail division on North Washington Avenue. This store was an anchor of Saginaw’s business community. While advertising noted that “Morley’s is everybody’s gift store,” it was more than just a place to shop. Located in the center of the community, the firm’s elaborate holiday window displays were an integral and fondly remembered Saginaw tradition. The unveiling of the windows, some animated and others featuring elaborate arrangements of merchandise, was an eagerly awaited event.
Historic image of Morley Brothers’ Store and windows.
The public image of the retail store was an important cornerstone for Morley Brothers. The company’s store was located on North Washington Avenue, one of Saginaw’s main thoroughfares. Designed by the prestigious Chicago architectural firm of Burnham and Root, its expanse of display windows featured innovative and imaginative displays of merchandise that often spilled out onto the sidewalks. As the store was expanded in the 1920s, their window decorations became even more ambitious. While we don’t know exactly when Morley Brothers created their first holiday windows, articles from the Saginaw News record that one of the firm’s long-time employees, T. Jimmie Poitras, was important in creating these displays.
Poitras was born in Gladstone Michigan and moved to Saginaw in 1917. Before he was hired by Morley Brothers in 1929, he worked in a number of Saginaw stores, including William Barrie Dry Goods and Heavenich’s. In 1938, the Saginaw News reported that he won an award for Christmas display windows. The article notes it was his 20th national award – within 10 years he was boasting over 40 awards for his work
When Poitras retired in December 1966, Ed Miller wrote in the Saginaw News:
“Morley’s story-book Christmas windows, known throughout Michigan, are arrangements of figurines and ornaments the store buys, and Jimmie has painted and renovated as needed before placing them just so with lighting effects also just so. The store’s current ones are an example.”
“The way they look is the personal signature of Jimmie Poitras.”
And we could add an important memory for my many Saginaw County residents of a certain age.
Although we don’t have a listing or images of all of the Morley Brothers Window displays, we do know 1953 was described as an “animated display” featuring “life-size mannequins resembling Santa and his gnome helpers.” And, if you click on this link below, you will be transported back to Saginaw’s North Washington Avenue in late 1949.
View the slideshow here!
Check out the photo gallery here!