- [S74] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume IV, 1987-1999, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 23 Dec 1989.
Winnie Katherine Fox Murphy obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 21 Aug 2011.
Murphys started farming in 1800s
by RACHEL OSBORN, Staff Writer
SEVIERVILLE — Begun in the late 1800s, the Murphy farm has been in the family for over 130 years and has been owned by four generations.
James Crawford (J. C.) Murphy Sr. and his wife Polly moved from Blount County to Sevier County in 1874 and purchased 684 acres of land in present-day Sevierville. The couple and their seven children grew corn, small grain and raised beef and dairy cattle.
As well as the farm, J. C. also owned and managed a general store.
“He went into the mercantile business in Sevierville,” the farm’s current owner Robert Murphy said. “He had a store.”
After the couple’s death, the farm should have went to the next generation — their son, Arthur Emory Murphy.
“After the Civil War he moved to Knoxville,” Robert said. “He entered the livestock commodity business. In 1872 he went bankrupt. On the way, moving home, he committed suicide. He couldn’t come back home a failure.”
The farm then went to J. C.’s grandsons, Robert and Campbell Murphy. Robert married Alice Murphy and they had 10 children together. Campbell never got married.
During their ownership the grandsons continued producing corn and small grain, as well as raising a variety of livestock. In 1895 Robert built a house and barn on the property. In 1913, the house was destroyed by fire. The loss of the house caused the family to struggle financially, though they eventually rebuilt.
The next owner of the land was Robert’s son — William Miles Murphy. William continued raising dairy and beef cattle, typically having a herd of 30 to 40 cows. Later in his successful farming career, William switched the herd to all beef cattle and hired several employees.
Today William’s son and the founders’ great-great-grandson, Robert Murphy, owns the farm. Around 250 acres of the original land remain. In 1990 Robert acquired 113 acres of it. His two sisters split the remaining portion.
“The land was divided among family members,” Robert said. “(The original land decreased because it) was sold by family members and sub-divided.”
Robert continues to raise cattle, like his father and grandfather.
“There’s less labor in (beef cattle),” he said.
In 1993 another fire occurred at the Murphy family farm, destroying the second house. The fire was a difficult time for Robert and his wife. After spending years restoring and renovating the house, they lost everything.
“I fixed it up from top to bottom,” Robert said. “I had it furnished with period furniture. It caught on fire from the fireplace. I built new fireplaces and chimneys. There was a vertical crack in one of the new fireplaces.”
After the fire, Robert rebuilt — constructing the third house on the exact same location. He and his wife Karrie currently live there. Though the original houses are long gone, one of the original barns still stands on a portion of the property owned by his sister.
Different structures on their farm aren’t the only changes Robert has noticed over the years. The farming industry has completely changed during his lifetime.
“A family farm is a thing of the past,” Robert said. “If you can’t run a factory farm, you’re just out of luck.”
Though the farming business is completely different, Robert has noticed some local landscape and economy changes too.
“The farming business in Sevier County is nothing like it was in my growing-up years,” he said. “Sevier County went from a farming-based economy to a tourist-based economy. I don’t like it. It is so much different. Here it is August, and you can drive from Sevierville up Newport Highway and not see any corn, small grain or tobacco growing anywhere.”
Seeing all of this growth is Robert’s favorite part of owning a farm.
“(I get) to enjoy God’s creations,” he said, “grow things, and see things grow. (It’s about) knowing where you came from. Land is something they don’t make any more of. You can walk on it. You can feel it in your hands. It’s just precious to me.”
Though he loves watching his crops flourish, Robert admits that farming isn’t always easy.
“A farmer has to be the most optimistic person,” he said. “They are completely controlled by the weather and market. They have to have the idea each year that it will be the best crop season in history—the best year that’s ever been.”
Robert’s also found that the crops and animals he loves can really tie a family down.
“If you have animals, you have to be there 365 days a year or make arrangements for someone to be there for you,” he said. “I never knew of my mother or father ever taking a vacation. I didn’t take my first vacation until I was 29-years-old. My wife would like to go places and take extended trips. We just can’t.”
The family farm will next go to Robert’s son and his two daughters. It will be split evently between them.
“It’s wonderful that the family heritage has been strong enough to hold on to the old family farm,” he said. “My youngest daughter has always said the perfect life was to work on the farm (on the weekends) in the morning and go to the UT football game in the afternoon. She just couldn’t have it any better than that. I think that’s good.”
To learn more about all of Sevier County’s century farms, visit the Sevier County Fair Sept. 5-10.
© themountainpress.com 2011