Murphy, North Carolina the County SeatThe town of Murphy is a charming and picturesque mountain town that anyone would be proud to call their home. Situated here in the center of the county on a hilltop at the convergence of the county's two main rivers, the Hiwassee River and the Valley River near the highway junction of US 19/129/74 and US 64. The town was named after a North Carolina legislator named Archibald Murphey; a misspelling of his name became the town's present identity.
Originally the town was called Huntington after Colonel A.R.S. Hunter who established a trading post and post office here in 1835. The county itself was formed in 1839 from a portion of neighboring Macon County, yet the town of Murphy wasn't officially incorporated as the county seat until 1851.
Though it is just one block off the main crossroads in downtown Murphy, the historic blue marble courthouse displays a presence of dignity and prosperity the county has always aspired to. The workmanship of the courthouse's exterior is composed of a regal eloquence that is quite captivating in its architectural design. This blue marble structure was constructed from local "high quality" marble quarried in the Valley River region to the northeast. The courthouse standing today was completed in 1925 at the height of the local railroad boom and it has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Across the street is the beautiful and brilliantly white painted Episcopal Church of the Messiah, built in 1895. The church stands directly across from the courthouse, you can see the direct contrast in church and government, but here it finds symmetry in an abstract statement of, "the law is the law no matter what side of the street you are on."
Facing east at the main street cross roads you can't help but notice the strong and stately First United Methodist Church, it was constructed as a modified "Modern Akron" in 1922.
The broad main streets at this downtown intersection are lined in historic buildings. The scene depicts a time when life was much simpler; the nation was young, and growing strong and the downtown district was the central life force for the people in the community.
Today Murphy is a friendly small town with big ideas and has brought that synergy back to life revitalizing the downtown area as well as many other areas of town. Not only in the historic downtown district, but also throughout the town you will find a nice blend of unique shopping.
One of the many special features of Murphy is the fairly large selection of creative eateries, casual pubs, and family restaurants. As well as fine dining establishments with creative and gourmet menus you won't find in most small towns, and the best part is the prices are very reasonable. So whatever your particular craving is, you will find a variety of delectable entrées and treats to your delight.
Amongst the many great old historic homes and structures in the Historic Downtown Murphy District, you'll find the Robert Lafayette Cooper House, a Queen Anne Victorian built in 1875. The house has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.Here along these historic streets are plenty of sights to be seen and some sights that are unseen. Several historic markers line the curbs along the main streets of downtown Murphy.
Heading about two blocks south along Peachtree Street is a historical marker that reads, "Juan Pedro, in 1567 an expedition of Spaniards, set out from Florida by Pedro Menendez De Aviles and led by Juan Pedro passed near here." At the downtown intersection of Peachtree and Hiwassee Street yet another marker reads, "Cherokee War, Major George Chicken of South Carolina, led the first English Military Expedition against the Cherokee in this area 1715." Apparently new folks have been visiting the Murphy area for nearly 500-years, that's impressive.
The one historical marker that seems to be missing is one for the patriot and courageous leader General Griffith Rutherford who led an expedition in 1776 of 2,400 Continentals over the Swannanoa Gap (just east of Asheville) heading into the deepest reaches of Western North Carolina to put down a Cherokee uprising spurred on by the British against the patriot colonials who were at war with King George of Britain for independence.
It is said he established his headquarters here at today's town of Murphy, while he organized his North Carolina frontiers men and joined forces with nearly as large a force of men that came up from South Carolina. Their mission was to crush the Cherokee, some of which were raiding settlements in the eastern Blue Ridge Foothills country of North Carolina. At hearing and seeing of the size of this force, the Cherokee took their families and headed into the forest for protection due to the massive amount of firepower Rutherford's men were willing to unleash on them in retaliation for the massacres of frontier settlers. The route of his campaign against the Cherokee blazed a trail that would become several of today's major highways through these Western North Carolina Mountains accomplishing it in a record amount of time. This route is known as Rutherford's Trace.
Next door to the Cherokee County courthouse is the Cherokee County Historical Museum located in the historic red brick Carnegie Library building. The curator would like everyone to know that the museum is now handicap accessible and fun for the entire family.
The museum houses both the Cherokee County Historical Museum, an Interpretive Center for the Cherokee County Trail of Tears and a hub for the Cherokee Heritage Trail. The history displayed at the museum reflects the local community heritage of its cherished mountain folks along with local Cherokee residents whose ancestors have called Cherokee County home since prehistoric times. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail is being presented at the museum in its own exhibit as well as an exhibit on the Unicoi Turnpike National Millennium Flagship Trail. The Unicoi Turnpike also known as the Trade Path, Northwest Passage or the Unicoi Gap Trail, was one of the most used ancient routes through the mountains connecting the lands to the east beyond the mountains, with the Cherokee Overhill Towns in the Tennessee River Valley to the west.
Up on the hilltop in the historic district of Murphy is the old Harshaw Chapel constructed in 1850; in Greek revival style. This historic church is visible from the courthouse to the left of the white Episcopal Church across from the courthouse.The Harshaw Chapel is no longer used today by it's original congregation's descendants and newly received members. They moved over to the historic First United Methodist Church at the end of Valley River Avenue. Today, Harshaw Chapel is in the caring hands of North Carolina's Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A lot of history has taken place here within this hallowed hall, with much of its historic past still remaining in the cemetery next to the chapel.
One local celebrity and controversial figure at rest in Harshaw Chapel graveyard is a man named Abraham Enloe. Abraham was said to have in his hire a servant girl named Nancy Hanks. I first heard this story while doing a profile on Rutherford County, North Carolina.
It is the same Abraham Enloe buried in Murphy, that's mentioned in Rutherford County. Members of the Friends of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace are petitioning for his DNA to prove he is the true father of Abraham Lincoln. I found this to be an interesting story, especially the claims concerning the facts within President Abraham Lincoln's biography and the historian hunter's claim, I do have a hunch of my own but that's too much to go into here and now.
On the north edge of the old historic downtown district, is Konehette Park. Konehette is the Cherokee word for "valley." The park runs along the Valley River as it makes its way through town. The new Wellness Center and Pool located in the park are a welcomed addition to the town of Murphy for residents and visitors alike.One of the unique geographical features of Murphy is its location where the Valley River merges with the Hiwassee River at the mouth of a foothills' gorge. Due to this geographic feature, The Heritage Partners have extended the river park trail around the river junction to the other side of the historic downtown district creating a loop through downtown and back to the park along its historic residential neighborhood, a great way to enjoy the beauty of the river and downtown Murphy.
This 3-mile trail skirts along both the Valley River and Hiwassee River, which form a conjunction on the north end of downtown Murphy. You can pickup the trail either at Konehette Park along the Valley River or at the Historic L&N Depot next to the Hiwassee River and bridge. The trail offers three different types of trail surface, from sidewalk or asphalt, to gravel and dirt, and the Highlander's favorite wooden decking located over areas of overflow water along the Valley River bank. It's the River Walk's more rural and natural habitats section that I find to be the most serene. A deck overlooks the 'Place of the Leach' where there is bench seating plus an information plaque depicting the Cherokee leach legend. There are two, canoe put-ins along the River Walk, one located on Payne Street and just off of Hiwassee Street near the old Depot. The Murphy River Walk is sponsored thru fund-raisers and devoted volunteers.
Going southward from downtown Murphy on Hiwassee Street, at the bottom of the hill along the river's edge is the historic 1887 L & N Depot. Though a rail line had been planned to reach Murphy since 1855, it didn't officially arrive until 1888 due to delays. The first delay was caused by the Civil War, then the bankruptcy of the Western North Carolina Railroad Company in 1866. The railroad company started once again in 1877 finally reaching Murphy in 1888.Once the rail line was finished it opened the region for the commercial export of natural resources such as lumber, iron ore, marble along with other minerals and local goods. The rail line brought new arrivals to the region as well as bringing in needed outside goods and luxuries. Although the railroad no longer travels through Murphy, this rail line began an era of prosperity in the town of Murphy that is still enjoyed today.
The bridge from the old rail line that crossed the Hiwassee River is gone with the exception of the original stone pile-on supports standing in the river and some of the old rail line tracks are still in place. There still remains several of the old rail line warehouses near the depot, some restored or remodeled, others awaiting the process. The L&N is a great sight for railroad buffs and the bright red caboose makes for a good photo opportunity.
Set high on a hilltop on the opposite bank of the Hiwassee River to the southwest above the peninsula of today's downtown Murphy, once sat the early 19th century Fort Butler. Its sole purpose was to process the local Cherokee who had been rounded up for removal west to Oklahoma. It was called the Indian Removal Act by Congress, putting General Winfield Scott in charge of 7,000 troops to aid him in collecting the Cherokee who didn't want to leave their homelands and escort them with force if necessary, westward along the infamous "Trail of Tears." This was not a glory assignment for the general, forcing these people from their homes didn't sit well with him; although he carried out his duties just the same. The few Cherokee leaders who signed the new treaty went ahead of the main body of Cherokee being removed. With "gold" being discovered in North Georgia and the State of Georgia willing to use its own prejudicial force if necessary, these individuals and others who supported the treaty decided it was best to "go west" rather than taking a chance of total extinction under the threat.
Too many of the Cherokee died along the way due to poor planning on both the government and some Cherokee leaders' behalf, with the government pushing the urgency to meet the treaty removal deadline along with inhospitable weather, a long dry hot summer followed by a very wet and cold winter. Many of the Cherokee perished from broken hearts alone, grief stricken just waiting to collapse along the torturous journey. It's a tale the Blue Ridge Highlander will tell in full one day, hopefully soon.
All that is left of Fort Butler, constructed in 1837 is a stone marker. The property is privately owned now, a small park setting has been landscaped and an engraved stone marker identifies the site. Looking northward from the site of Fort Butler, you can see the junction were the two rivers meet before entering the bluffs and gorge regions that begins at the southern end of Lake Hiwassee.
Here are a sampling of the artists you will find....Anthony Abreu • Michael Bedoian • Juanita Greenspan • Linda Thompson • Tonya Fowler • Jason Fowler • Chris Jones • Les Smith • Chuck Waldroup • Joe Waldroup • Billy Reynolds • Randy Rowe • Thomas Payne • Frances McCord • Rita Poole • Clive Poole • Marla McCormick • Don Milsaps
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