George B. Morley added his own gloss to the Morley family name which dates back to Saginaw pioneer days.
He was born October 16, 1857, in Painesville, Ohio. He came to Saginaw in 1876 from Fort Scott, Kansas, to work as a teller at Second National Bank, now First Merit, which his uncle, George W. Morley, had helped organize five years before. George B. Morley progressed steadily at the bank and became president in 1901, a position he held until 1929 when he was named chairman of the board. For several decades he was recognized as one of Michigan’s foremost bankers. He had extensive interests and was one of the pioneers in some of Saginaw Valley’s most important enterprises.
He was among those who helped found the sugar beet industry in Saginaw. He was to a large degree instrumental in the oil explorations which led to development of the big central Michigan oil field. After World War I, he had a prominent role in the organization of the former Saginaw Welfare League, which combined the financing of Saginaw’s charitable and social service organizations. He was a director and one of its largest contributors.
Morley had been prominently identified with Saginaw banking nearly 60 years. Morley’s part in the building of Second National Bank was an exceedingly large one. His leadership helped it attain the wide reputation it now enjoys as one of the Midwest’s foremost banks. Morley’s standing as a banker was recognized in fields much larger than that of his home city. He was honored by the Michigan Banker’s Association by election to its presidency. He also was elected a director of the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.
In 1881 he married the former Lulu Avery, sister of Sewell Avery of Montgomery-Ward fame. They had no children. Together the Morleys planned and built a palatial residence on the east side of the 300 block of N. Washington. The house and grounds covered a lot which extended east to Franklin Street. It contained a formal garden, a fountain and a stone carriage house. The large house accommodated a staff of four maids, a cook and two gardeners. Its many ornate fireplaces were decorated with exquisite polished wood carvings. It had beamed ceilings, huge brass chandeliers and a curved stairway.
In 1934, George B. Morley was named the year’s recipient of the annual Award of Honor conferred by the then Saginaw Board of Commerce. The membership was bestowed upon the Saginaw man who, in the board’s opinion, had given exceptional service to the community. The directors’ resolution stated in part: “Our esteemed fellow citizen, George B. Morley, with broad vision, sound principles, and great executive ability, has guided many of Saginaw’s business institutions to success, thereby making a very direct and important contribution to the growth, prosperity and progress of our city and earned the sincere appreciation of its citizens.”
In 1924, when Morley was named a director of the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, his appointment was considered by local bankers to be recognition of his standing in banking circles, not only here but in a much larger field.
When he came to Saginaw in 1876, Second National Bank was located on Genesee near Washington. In 1896, the bank bought the building of the former Home National Bank on N. Washington, just north of the Eddy Building, and moved into its new quarters. There it remained until 1925, when under Morley’s leadership it moved into its present 12-story building at the corner of Genesee and Washington, diagonally across from its first location. While George B. Morley’s chosen activities were as a banker, he also was interested in many other principal undertakings. In the late 1800s, Morley helped finance early experiments in sugar beet culture in the Saginaw and Thumb district. He was for many years vice-president and later president of the Michigan Sugar Company. At the time of his death he was chairman of the board of the company. He also was associated with William H. Wallace in the Wallace & Morley Company and the Wallace Stone Company, with extensive holdings in the Thumb territory. He had been a director of the Huron Portland Cement Company, Consolidated Coal Company, and the Bad Axe Grain Company.
Morley’s connection with the oil industry also had important results to the state. Back in 1912, he was one of those interested in Saginaw Development Company, which drilled several exploratory wells in and about Saginaw with little success. In 1925, he and a small group of other prominent Saginaw men again became interested in the possibility of obtaining oil here. He was one of the leaders in organization of the Saginaw Prospecting Company, which drilled a well in Deindorfer Woods, just north of the city limits. The well struck a promising quantity of oil. Its success was the signal for further exploratory work and finally rapid development of an oil field in and near the northwestern part of the city. This development directed the attention of oil men to Michigan and led to exploratory operations elsewhere in the state.
During World War I, he was a member of the executive committee of the Saginaw County War Board, which directed local patriotic activities. He had a large part in the work of that organization.
Club and social activities also had a prominent place in his life. In 1889, he organized the Saginaw Club and served as its president. He was president and a director of the Saginaw Country Club. He held memberships in the Banker’s Club of Detroit; the Congressional Country Club, Washington, D.C.; the Detroit Club and the Turtle Lake Club, a noted hunting club near Alpena.
While George B. Morley never seemed interested in holding public office, he took a keen interest in politics. He was a solid Republican, served as a delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention in 1912 and was a valued advisor in party affairs.
Morley was 78 years old when he died in Saginaw in 1935.
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