Morris is a quintessential rural Midwestern town filled with unique small shops some old and some new, most in historic buildings, sitting right along the I&M Canal and a stone’s throw from the Illinois River and many recreational activities. The I&M Canal made Morris an important center for agriculture, industry, trade and government. Downtown still thrives as the county seat of one of Illinois’ most fertile agricultural counties. A huge grain elevator visible over the treetops along the Illinois River is a reminder that corn is still a vital part of Morris’ economy today.
70 miles from downtown Chicago, but a world away
Downtown Morris can keep you busy hours with shops and dining establishments both old and new. Weits Café has been on Liberty Street (the main street) for over 50 years; while nearby there are several newly opened boutiques selling paper goods, clothing, home goods, and vintage furniture. Several shops represent the new recycle/upcycle trend. Check out Whimsy, Vintage, or one of the many other shops. Between May and October, visit the 3 French Hens Market along the canal on Illinois Avenue at Canalport Park on the 2nd Saturday of the month, from 8 am until 2 pm.
Located right on the I&M Canal and the Illinois River, the nearby I&M Canal State Trail runs along these two ribbons of water and offers some spectacular scenery. These are easy walks or rides along the trail both east and west of town with plenty of free parking in town and at access points near Morris. You can launch a boat into the Illinois River at Stratton State Park or rent a bicycle, canoe or kayak there at Kayak Morris.
Four blocks from downtown, the Grundy County Historical Society sits along the canal in a canal-era manufacturing building and has well designed exhibits covering many local topics including world famous Mazon Creek fossils.
Also adjacent to downtown is Canalport Plaza. The Cor-ten steel silhouettes in Canalport Plaza tell the story of the Armstrong family, many of whom had a profound influence on Morris and Grundy County. Family matriarch Elsie Armstrong traveled to Illinois in 1831 with seven sons, ranging in age from 3 to 19. The promise of a new life on the Illinois frontier led her to escape a bad marriage in Ohio. Plans were underway to construct the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Her sons soon helped build it. Three became founders of MorrisArmstrong Street bears their name.
Continue one block west along Illinois Avenue to Canalport Park to discover a canal boat play structure representing a to scale canal freight boat and two more Cor-ten steel silhouettes of a mule and canal driver tell the story of Old Nell, the most famous mule on the towpath, and of canal driver John Sullivan.
Downtown Morris hosts a full calendar of events including Liberty Days, Home for the Holidays, Cruise Nights and the Gus Macker 3 on 3 basketball tournaments. The city’s best known festival by far is the Grundy County Corn Festival held at the end of September each year. It was first held in 1948. Contests, concerts, family entertainment, a craft show, farm fair, carnival, and of course corn, are all part of the festivities. Visit www.cornfestival.org for this year’s dates.
There are many choices for food and drink downtown or along Rt. 47 from Letty Mae’s Tea Room and the Montage Wine Bar, to the Enjoi Bake Shop with ice cream and Sweet Tooth candy shop, to sandwich shops and little bars, to full service restaurants. Some of our favorites include Turtle’s for a casual meal or Chapin’s for a little more upscale lunch and dinner.
Several chain motels offer convenient lodging.
Street and lot parking is available downtown, and there are lots adjacent to the canal on Illinois Avenue west of Canalport Plaza.