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E.M. Morris heirs to sell Morris Farms in Niles at auction

NILES, Mich. (June 17, 2010) -- Generations of Notre Dame followers and Niles residents have been raised on the story of how philanthropist E.M. Morris convinced Notre Dame to let him attend free in exchange for a promise to pay the school back tenfold.

Over the years, Morris fulfilled his promise many times over, and the family's estate along the St. Joe River in Niles came to symbolize his role as one of Notre Dame's key benefactors. Now, the family is preparing to sell most of the property at auction. The sale will include the historic family mansion, Red Horse Inn, the stables, a covered bridge and two miles along the St. Joe River, according to Nancy Butler, E.M. Morris's granddaughter, who serves as a family spokesperson.

"After all these years, we believe it's time for this property to be developed in a way that will enhance the Niles community, which has been our home for well over a century and will continue to be," said Miss Butler. "We've reached a point where the family is so large and diverse that it's increasingly a challenge to equitably share and manage a property of this size."

The 868-acre property will be sold in 40 tracts, including some as small as two acres, according to Gene Klingaman, vice president of Schrader Real Estate and Auction Company, which is partnering on the project with Mishawaka, Ind.-based real estate firm Grubb & Ellis | Cressy & Everett.

"There's a real mystique about the land, and for some time, the family had really hoped to build a unique community incorporating the riverfront, the historic nature of the structures, and the magnificent beauty that many area residents have never seen. But given the nature of today's real estate market, they feel that the best way to make their dream a reality is to place the property in the hands of several investors who can help it reach its potential. The fact that they are retaining some of the property themselves reflects the family's commitment to creating a community that is consistent with the peaceful surroundings," said Klingaman.

Morris's success as founder of The Associates, which became the largest financing company in the world, made it possible for the family to create the estate. The landmarks to be included in the auction include:

- The "Big House" on the St. Joe River. The home, which has a working wine cellar, has been undergoing a gradual restoration in recent years.
- The Stables, which were later converted to a home where the family's children spent their summers.
- The Red Horse Inn, a former fur trading post that has been used as a guest house.
- The covered bridge on the St. Joe Basin.

"We're hopeful that we'll put the property in the hands of new owners who will love it as we have and understand our vision for a development that includes homes, apartments, shopping and much more," said Miss Butler.

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