Peabody Singing Tower

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KARL MORRIS AND THE BLACKMORE CIGAR FIRM IN NORTH MANCHESTER, INDIANA, 1920-1922    

by John Knarr    November 30, 2009

 

INTRODUCTION

 Twenty-six years ago my wife and I purchased the tall three-story brick building known as “The Cigar Factory” in downtown North Manchester, Indiana. “HOME OF THE BLACKMORE CIGAR” in large letters facing west had once been boldly emblazoned billboard-style in a forty-foot banner on the brick wall. Visitor and resident alike have been struck by the prominence of such advertising. The original sign was never painted over but has faded nearly into obscurity. At the time of our purchase in 1983 (we later sold the property), I soon became intrigued with this tall but narrow building and its background, the Blackmore Cigar sign, the history of cigar making along with the early entrepreneurial cigar makers in our community. My interest was further whetted when Fred Barnes, a former owner of the building, passed along anecdotal information about the cigar manufacturing operation that once took place there. What historical information Fred had was sparse indeed. I was soon to discover that no one about town knew much about the cigar industry and the several cigar makers who had once worked and lived in North Manchester. Dr. Ladoska Z Bunker was said to have known little about the Blackmore operation. Born in 1902, Dr. Bunker would have been a teenager when Karl Morris and Blackmore came to town. Her father’s place of business, though, was diagonally just across Main Street, in clear view of the Blackmore billboard. One would think that “Josh” Billings, the newspaper publisher, and his sidekick journalist, Harry Leffel would have inside information about the cigar factory and its owner. Their newspaper office, after all, was practically next door to the east on the same side of the street as the Blackmore building. Moreover, Billings had accepted Blackmore Cigar advertising over a period of several months. Yet, the only written account I can find is Billings’ ever so brief mention of the Blackmore cigar business and its owner Karl Morris in an article published in 1950. In that article, Billings even gets his dates mixed up since he claimed that Morris and Blackmore were operating in 1915-1916, which was five years before Karl Morris came to town!

 My goals in researching this topic have been several fold. I wanted to understand better why cigar manufacturing once took place in the big brick building of which I had become the owner. This interest necessitated a better understanding of the historical context of cigar making in North Manchester and other communities. I also wanted to uncover the advertising and artifacts of this particular business, for I often wondered whether the tools of the trade, the local cigar boxes along with cigar labels and bands might be found somewhere. I very much wanted to find out more about Karl Morris, the cigar manufacturer. Did he have roots here and what was his background? Could any business records be located? Are there family members or descendants living today who might be able to share family stories and information? I soon found out that the mostly negligible information available about Morris’ Blackmore cigar manufacturing plant meant that I needed to move beyond local oral and written histories and to locate other sources. The fact that Billings was in error about the specific time frame of the Blackmore operation did hinder the research process. Moreover, the fact that neither Billings nor Leffel were more forthcoming about the man who owned and ran Blackmore meant that a different kind of research strategy needed to be adopted. Recently I have increasingly turned to courthouse records, census data, family genealogies, city and business directories, vital records, newspaper research and whatever else I could think of to advance this research. The overall study will attempt to pull together the various findings. Additional information will probably come to light in the future. Hopefully, my research initiative will serve to improve an understanding of local business initiatives and family histories.

  


SYNOPSIS OF SOME FINDINGS

 Born in 1879 in the Ukraine to Russian Jewish parents, Karl Morris migrated to America with his parents in 1883. Morris married Millma Hinkle, a North Manchester native. She later remarried  and is buried in North Manchester’s Oaklawn Cemetery. In 1920 cigar manufacturer Karl Morris moved his family to North Manchester. With twenty years of experience in cigar making in the Seattle and Boston areas, Morris wanted to promote North Manchester as a “cigar center”. His cigar factory was located at 106 East Main in a tall three-story building on the alley. This cigar operation lasted approximately two years. According to newspaper advertising claims, peak manufacturing production was one thousand cigars a day. “Blackmore” was the name of a nineteenth-century English novelist and the Blackmore moniker was given to cigar bands and box labels. Today the Blackmore cigar band and box label are rare collectibles. I now own a Blackmore Perfectos cigar box, the only one I have ever seen. A collector in Chicago has in his collection a Blackmore cigar band, and I have seen no others.

 


If anyone has more information on Karl Morris or the Blackmore operation in North Manchester, please contact me or the Center for History. As time permits, I will be uploading more of my research findings.       Contributed by John Knarr.


 For information on the cigar makers in North Manchester prior to the 1920s, click here.