This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Downtown Morocco

Though I have lived in Rensselaer for about 35 years, I do not recall ever visiting downtown Morocco. I have driven by it many times on US 41, and past it by continuing west on SR 114 to Willow Slough or Illinois. But a few weeks ago when I was in the area, I decided to see what was there.

The downtown stretches for about two city blocks on either side of State Street, from Main Street to Lincoln. Here is the view from Main Street looking east. The DeMotte State Bank is on the right and it has a newer building. Almost everything else in the downtown is quite old.
The view below is also from Main Street looking east, but it shows the buildings on the north side of State Street. Most of these buildings seem to be occupied with either services or offices. The North Newton School Corporation has offices here. There is almost no retail left in downtown Morocco. I was there late on a Saturday morning and the downtown was dead.
A block to the east of Main Street is Clay Street. I liked the fountain and the clock at this intersection. The building with the big blue and white sign is the Newton County License Branch office. Next to it is a building on which the siding above the entrance is partially gone.
Morocco was platted in 1851. Few if any of the buildings from its earliest years survive. A railroad line of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad reached Morocco in 1888 and in 1905 the Chicago, Indiana, and Southern Railroad was constructed. Though the rails of the CI&S (which later was merged into New York Central) are still intact, the line has been abandoned. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were the most prosperous years in Morocco's history, and most of the buildings downtown were built in that era.

Below is a view from Clay Street looking west. It shows the same buildings that you can see in the second picture of this post.
Almost all the buildings that were in downtown Morocco a hundred years ago are still there. Unfortunately, none of them is really all that remarkable. The Newton County  Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory lists 16 buildings in this section of downtown Morocco, but not one of them is anything more than "contributing."

Looking east from the clock and the water fountain, here is the view of the south side of State Street. The most noticeable building is that of the Morocco Glass and Trim, a business that replaces automobile windows. It is not the sort of business you expect to find in a downtown. 
Walking east on State and looking back, you can see a big sign that reads:
Peoples Drug Store
Everything to be found in an up to date drug store
Get the Peoples quality.
Since there is no drug store there now and the sign looks recent, I assume that it recreates something of the past.
The buildings on north side of State Street east of Clay seem to be mostly vacant.
Because the old commercial district clings to State Street, you can get a clear picture of the backs of the buildings that are shown above.

The weathered sign for an old Pool Hall had interesting lettering.
At the end of the row of mostly vacant buildings is a small park, Betty Kessler Park. Under the roof on the left are paintings of history and highlights. One features Sam Rice, a Hall of Fame baseball player. Wikipedia notes:
Rice grew up in various towns near Morocco, Indiana, on the Indiana-Illinois border, and considered Watseka, Illinois, his hometown. In 1912, as he played with a minor-league baseball team in Galesburg, Illinois, Rice's wife, two children, mother, siblings, and a farmhand were all killed in a tornado that swept through Morocco. Rice's father Charles eventually succumbed to his storm-related wounds.
In the background you can see one of the two elevators in Morroco. (The other is smaller and seems to be defunct.) It is surprising to see an elevator here because it is not next to railroad tracks. However, it may have once had railroad tracks when the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad was in operation.
This little park is where the Morocco Farmers' Market, which has a Facebook page, meets on Saturdays.

Old, decaying buildings give many opportunities for "artsy" photographs.

Little Indiana visited Morocco a while back and was not much impressed. See here and here for her account.

There is not a lot of information about Morocco on the Internet. A publication called the Morocco Times has a Facebook page, and does the town of Morocco. The Morocco Times has a web page of local links, of which the historical society site is the most interesting. Among other things, it has some very nice old maps.

Update April 26. The town of Morocco has a new website at .


ed said...

Bob, The drug store vacated in the late 90's and was incorporated into the grocery store on Polk Street Across from the Yankee Inn liquor store which I owned from '95-'99.
Yankee Inn was not named for any Patriotic reason, rather the original owner was a NY Yankees fan. I didn't have the guts to change it to "White Sox Liquors"!!!

Morocco got it's name from strange circumstances too. It was a vast swampy area covered with thick, tall brambles and the early people to the area wore waist high boots made from Moroccan leather to wander the area on foot and on horse. Thus Morocco. The local Library in Morocco has an excellent local history section. ed feicht

Sheila said...

I've lived here all my life and have never been to downtown Morocco either. What an interesting post!

Bill Miller said...

I was born and raised in Morocco. I feel it was a blessing, I loved the place, the people and my great family. I am a funeral director in florida now, but always let folks know where I come from. Morocco is a great town and I miss it. Bill Miller