Biography of Olney N. Morse

The subject of this sketch, who was one of the argonauts of 1849, was born in Westfield, Chautauqua county, New York, December 4, 1826, and is the son of William and Lydia Ford Morse. During his early years he resided on his father’s farm, and received his education at the common schools until the spring of 1849. In that year he organized a company with nine other young men to cross the plains to the gold fields of California. Being elected secretary and treasurer of the party, he was sent to St. Louis in advance, and purchased the outfit and provisions, being soon joined by his associates. Having come to Council Bluffs, this little band started on foot or horseback across the plains, their company being known as the Westfield train.

They arrived in Sacramento October 17, 1849, and still maintained their organization as they proceeded to the Amador mines, where they met with good success. January 1, 1850, Mr. Morse returned to Sacramento and opened a restaurant and hotel, which he conducted until the disastrous floods in the following March, which swept away his building. He then engaged in driving freight teams to the mines at a salary of eleven dollars per day. He followed that occupation until the company intimated a cut of one dollar per day, when Mr. Morse severed his connection with the company and embarked for himself in the general merchandise trade in El Dorado county, where he conducted a very successful business for about one year, making over one thousand dollars per month.

He then closed out and determined to return East, but upon arriving at Sacramento saw a golden opportunity in a stage line from Sacramento to Georgetown, and another line from Sacramento to Jackson; and in the fall of 1851 he began to operate those lines, continuing that business until the consolidation of his lines with the Oregon & California Stage Company, Mr. Morse taking thirty thousand dollars worth of stock in the latter company. This proved an insecure investment, as a few years later, owing to the mismanagement of the Oregon & California company, he met with the entire loss of his stock. He then followed ranching and hotel-keeping in different places, until, in 1861, he purchased the well-known “Q” ranch, situated in the Ione valley, Amador county, paying therefor twenty thousand dollars, and residing upon it until 1879. In that year he sold out and returned to Sacramento.

In 1883 he came to Seattle, Washington Territory, and in 1886 leased the well-known and popular Arlington Hotel, a view of which is placed in this volume. The popularity of Mr. Morse and that of his hotel became so general that he was compelled to secure more accommodations for his ever-increasing patronage; and in 1888 he built on his own property the magnificent four-story Morse Building, adjoining the Arlington, upon a foundation sixty by one hundred and twenty feet. This was furnished with a thorough system of steam-heating and gas, and was magnificently furnished. It was destroyed by fire in the great conflagration on June 6, 1889. Mr. Morse combines all the qualities necessary for a successful hotel proprietor. Having a disposition to accommodate, and possessed of generous promptings towards his fellow-man, he greets the stranger, the guest or the friend in that peculiar way which carries with it an impression of a kind wish that seldom fails to leave a desire with the recipient to do him a favor if he can.

Mr. Morse was married in El Dorado county, California, January 12, 1859, to Miss Margaret Winchell, a native of Illinois. By this union they have three children.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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