Charles W. Morse’s Gift

The Reverend Francis W. O’Brien Pastor of the People’s Church in Bath facilitated a program entitled “Forward Movement.”  Hundreds of conversions resulted, men taken from the very gutters and transformed into worthy citizens, according to the Reverend. The work attracted the interest and support of Bath business leaders as well as Bath native and New York businessman Charles W. Morse.

Reverend O’Brien was summoned to New York to consult Morse on another matter, and as the clergyman was leaving Morse happened to remark “I do want to give something to Bath!” With characteristic readiness, Reverend O’Brien instantly suggested, “A school, and name it for your mother.”  “I’ll do it,” replied the financier who was then at the zenith of his rollercoaster career.

Construction of Morse High School commenced in 1903.  The structure was brick with trimmings of granite and terra cotta. The front façade contained two ornate entrances with a huge granite tablet bearing the Morse name.  In the course of years, ivy vines planted by graduating classes climbed the walls to the roof.  It was a very beautiful building and its erection was the finest school building in Maine and the most imposing structure in Bath.

The building was formally presented to the city January 30, 1904 at exercises in the handsome new assembly hall, the central interior feature of the building.  The building cost $56,600 to build, nearly all donated by Morse. It had originally been planned as a memorial to his mother, Anna Eliza Jane (Rodbird) Morse, but in the end, it was named for him.  The city fathers again appealed to Mr. Morse, saying they could not afford to furnish it so he gave them additional funds to furnish the entire building, perhaps $45,000 more.

In March of 1928 disaster struck with the total loss of Morse High School by fire. As dawn broke on March 23, students and teachers alike approached their school, stepping over the maze of fire hoses. They stood among the acrid smell of smoke and dampness.  There were no words to be spoken. One could only stare in disbelief with personal feelings of the sickening loss before them.  The two majestic entrance ways stood like bookends holding nothing but ruin. What will tomorrow bring?

Most of the records of the school and the school department were burned, along with the collection of portraits, photographs, objects of art, trophies, etc., the collection of a century (Bath High School before Morse High). A valuable part of this collection was formed by portraits of former principals and others who had played important parts in the history of the schools. Beginning in 1892, each graduating class had made a valuable gift to the school. All these were lost in the holocaust.

Immediate steps were taken to replace the building with a larger modern structure as completely fireproof as possible. Although not as ornamental as the original Morse High School, it is a handsome building.  The old name was transferred to the new building to perpetuate Mr. Morse’s gift. An important feature is a gymnasium way beyond the wildest dreams of former principals, now famously known as the “Pit.”

In his late years Morse lived at 942 Washington Street in Bath. His businesses were bankrupt and he was a recluse, a presence at a window there overlooking Washington street.  He occasionally enjoyed automobile rides with his caretaker and in 1928 it was reported that he watched from his car as his high school burned, an agonizing finale to all his lifetime losses.  However, his name lives on.

Excerpts from Owen’s History of Bath; Phillip H. Woods “Bath Maine’s CHARLIE MORSE.”  The paragraph describing students feelings are memories recalled by the writer from his Mother, Catharine Hooper, Class of 1931.