- [S106] The Mountain Press, 27 Aug 2012.
Upland Chronicles: Murphy College played a role in education history of county
by CARROLL McMAHAN
In 1890, four members of the Mountain Star Lodge were selected as trustees of a new school which would later be named Murphy College. The trustees obtained a two-acre site from their lodge in a section of Sevierville known at that time as Cedar Grove.
The State of Tennessee granted the school a charter in 1891 which empowered the institution to grant degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Science. Bricks for the two-story building were made in a nearby kiln by Witt McMahan.
The school opened in January 1892 as an auspice of the Methodist-Episcopal Church with three teachers and a principal.
The total cost for construction of the school was $5,000. When the official dedication was held on June 4, 1893, a debt of $4,000 remained. At this dedication ceremony Col. James C. Murphy and his son William C. Murphy announced they would contribute $1,000. Before the festivities ended, other citizens had also pledged large sums of money.
After all the donations were collected the college had a small debt of only $192.
Col. James Crawford Murphy was 85 at the time and died the following year. In his memory the school was named Murphy College.
Murphy College offered courses from primary grades to college courses. Classes offered to higher grades included Latin, Greek, English, Algebra and Geometry along with Trigonometry, Botany and Psychology. The first graduation class of 1893 consisted of five students. They were Pink Atchley, O.J. Reed, W.A. Catlett, Charles W. McMahan and Josie Wolf.
Students who lived within walking distance commuted daily to class while those living in the rural sections of the county lived in a dormitory or boarded with a family who resided near the school. Often students would assist the family with household chores in exchange for room and board. The cost for first class boarding at the school was $8 per month.
In the main building an iron stove was installed in each classroom and some students were able to work their way through school by carrying wood or coal to the classrooms and lighting a fire before classes began.
In addition to providing an education, Murphy College also sought to improve the characters of its students as well. Smoking tobacco and drinking alcoholic beverages were strictly prohibited. A student caught smoking a cigarette was often punished by being restricted to the school grounds for six weeks.
Another rule was that dating was allowed only once every other week on Sunday between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
As strange as it seems, trips into downtown Sevierville only two blocks away were strictly forbidden. Of course the students who lived in town had the advantage of leaving campus and doing as they pleased after classes.
The first president of Murphy College was J. Wiley P. Massey. He was followed by L.S. Fuller, Rev. J.C. Eckols, Alvin Craig, Rev. J.S. Jones, Dr. E. B Ackerman, Rev. J.D. Evans and Elmer F. Goddard.
While the leadership during the first two decades of the school’s existence was adequate, the formidable Dr. E.A. Bishop arrived in 1912 to serve as president in 1912 and led in the expansion of the institution.
Dr. Bishop was born in 1852 in New Jersey and attended Wesleyan University of Connecticut. He became the principal of Montpellier Seminary in Vermont which was also a Methodist school. He then moved to Sevierville to become the president of Murphy College.
On Jan. 8, 1919 Murphy College suffered a great loss when the Boys Dormitory Building was destroyed by fire. In a futile attempt to save the structure, R.B. Newman of the Knoxville, Sevierville and Eastern Railroad went to the third floor with a fire extinguisher where he encountered flames of such magnitude that he was forced to leap from a third floor window to preserve his life.
Although neighbors also formed a “bucket brigade” on that cold winter morning the wooden building was a total loss. Fortunately, no lives were lost.
After the fire, 63 acres of the M.P. Thomas property on Park Road was purchased for the purpose of building a new school. Dr. Bishop planned to erect seven buildings which would include an Administration Building, a boys dormitory and a girls dormitory along with a gymnasium and classrooms.
After 30 years on Cedar Street, Murphy College moved to the new site in the fall of 1923 and the name was changed to Murphy Collegiate Institute. Dr. Bishop died in December of 1925, two years after realizing his dream of a new campus.
The establishment of Sevier County High School in the early 1920s, the death of Dr. Bishop and the financial climate of the great depression of the early 1930s caused the closing of Murphy Collegiate Institute in 1936. The last class graduated in 1935.
The original Murphy College Building on Cedar Street still stands. A short-lived Sevierville Business College moved in the building after Murphy College moved. Then Sevierville Elementary School used the building for several years.
When a new grammar school was built, the old college was vacant until it was renovated in the 1970s by the Sevier County Board of Education. Today it contains the central office of the Board of Education and the director of schools office.
The Murphy Collegiate Institute Administration Building still stands on Park Road as well. It is on the campus of the Smoky Mountains Children’s Home. The property was sold to the Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn.
The Church of God first operated a Bible Training school there before converting it into the Church of God Home for Children. The Children’s Home has been a respected asset to the community since 1949.
In some ways Murphy College paved the way for better education in Sevier County. Not only did it educate many young men who became civic leaders. Females were given their first opportunity for advanced education. In fact, the graduating class of 1915 was all girls.
Murphy College served the community well for almost half a century. Not only did it provide a good education for its students but also offered cultural attractions never before available in Sevier County.
— Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to email@example.com.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, 374b, 12 Jul 1870.
Birth listed in North Carolina.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, family 804 page 443b, line 10, 12 Oct 1850.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 417.
Birth 23 October 1807