East Knox County has survived as one the last places to see the rural history of our community. A drive out Washington Pike, beyond the sea of retail that has washed up around I-640, still provides scenic views of farmland and historic houses that have weathered the last century or more. In recent years though, the present began intruding in the form of subdivisions and strip centers. A cynic would proclaim the area is destined to suffer the same fate as the western part of the county. An optimist would be relieved to see a glimmer of hope just around the corner.
In most cases these days the sight of freshly turned earth no longer signals the start of the planting season. Instead, it's usually the precursor of destruction and that's what I thought a while back as I passed through the intersection of Washington Pike and Murphy Road. The front yard of the beautiful old farmhouse I always admired had been transformed by a backhoe and construction equipment was visible. The new gas station, houses and proposed retail sprawl nearby caused me to assume the activity on the northeast corner was the next domino to fall on the way out toward the Ritta community and House Mountain. I was thrilled when I found out I was wrong.
The Murphy family, originally from Virginia, first settled on the 180-acre-farm in 1797. The Gothic style farmhouse has stood since about 1841, but remained mostly empty for the last decade - expect for the annual family reunions that brought the Murphy clan back to the home place. The farm is like a snapshot of a way of life that is rapidly disappearing. The old spring house is still in place - right next to the smokehouse - and the old windows still frame views of woods and fields.
The family's connection to the house and the land has endured, but the Murphy Farm has only recently found the person determined to restore it and protect it for at least a few more generations. That person is Kevin Murphy and he's come home from Florida with a determination to do the job right.
Kevin's plans are a fascinating combination of meticulous restoration and the latest technology. On the day I visited I ruined a pair of sneakers tromping through a job site filled with orange mud and deep trenches. As experienced craftsmen worked on reassembling the ancient front porch, Kevin proudly explained the new geothermal system that will be used to heat and cool the old structure. As we examined the hand hewn timbers that make up the exterior walls he reported the house will be wired with the latest in communications infrastructure since his job allows him to telecommute.
He is also combining preservation and technology to share the story of the Murphy Farm and family. Kevin has been blogging about the restoration project since before the construction began and it's a glimpse into the history of his family and the transformation of their home. It is filled with photographs and provides regular updates on the progress of his design and construction team. He also shares information on the architectural and archaeological forensics that have shed light on the approximate age and history of the house. You can read all about it at Murphy Springs: Restoring Murphy Farm.
You can see the project in person during an open house and tour planned for this weekend. It's a rare opportunity to explore a historic house of this age while it's under construction. Kevin issued the following invitation:
All area preservationists are invited to preview the Murphy House (4508 Murphy Road) on Saturday, August 22, from 10 a.m. until noon. Come see the restoration project in progress while the walls and foundation are opened up and you can see "the bones" of a wood-framed house built circa 1841. A formal open house will be held in the spring after restoration is complete. No refreshments will be provided; bring water if it's hot and old shoes if it's been raining.
I can vouch for him on the part about the old shoes. I plan to pull my ruined ones out of the back of the car upon arrival.