Live Oak County Historical Commission
Live Oak County Historical Commission

       The Murphy Ranch House (RTHL)

Original Murphy Ranch House as it faced the river road during the Elizabeth and Patrick Murphy ownership and Margaret Mary Healey Murphy ownership when nuns from the order she established in San Antonio, The Sisters of the Holy Ghost, came either for training or respite. Photo courtesy Andrea Estes.

Photo of the Murphy Ranch House as remodeled by the R.F. Sellers reversing the front to face Echo Stagecoach Inn (ruins since Hurricane Celia-1970). The river road ceased to exist during the building of Lake Corpus Christi, and a county road runs nearby beyond the Inn and the direction the home now faces.

 

Andrea Estes, present owner, sits on a replication of the original well and continues to maintain the clapboard structure made of cypress wood. "Andi" is tireless in efforts to preserve both the property and history of the Murphys and their legacy. (Photo by Richard Hudson.) 

Andi Estes, Heather Hallock, and Leslie Walker, LOCHC Chairwoman presented an auspicious program. Andi wrote a play about Mother Mary Healy Murphy, and Heather directed and presented. Held everyone spellbound. About 250 or more came to enjoy the day. Photo courtesy John Walker.

Live Oak County Judge: Honorable Jim Huff

Live Oak County Historical Commission Chair: Leslie Walker

LOCHC Marker Chair: Richard Hudson

Assistant Chair: Janis Hudson

Murphy Ranch House Sponsors: Andrea and Monte Estes

Contact: rehudson@liveoakchc.com

Murphy Ranch House Recorded Texas Historic Landmark text:

 

THE MURPHY RANCH HOUSE, ECHO, TEXAS

     SAN PATRICIO CHIEF JUSTICE, PATRICK FRANCES MURPHY AND WIFE, ELIZABETH MARY CATHERINE, DAUGHTER OF EMPRESARIO JAMES MCGLOIN, PURCHASED THE POINT AT ECHO IN 1875. THEY BUILT THIS MODEST GREEK REVIVAL STORY AND A HALF FRAME HOUSE ON THEIR NUECES RIVER'S EAST BANK RANCH WITH IMPORTED CYPRESS CARTED FROM INDIANOLA BY OXEN.

     PATRICK SOLD THE ECHO PROPERTY TO MARGARET MARY HEALY-MURPHY, WIDOW OF HIS BROTHER, ATTORNEY JOHN BERNARD MURPHY, WHO DIED IN 1884 WHILE MAYOR OF CORPUS CHRISTI. MARGARET MARY BUILT SAINT PETER CLAVER'S CHURCH CAMPUS IN SAN ANTONIO WITH PRIVATE FUNDS, INCLUDING CONVENT AND FREE SCHOOL FOR BLACK CHILDREN. SHE THEN FOUNDED THE FIRST ORDER OF NUNS IN TEXAS USING THE MURPHY RANCH HOUSE FOR RETREATS AND TRAINING. TO SUSTAIN THE MISSION, SHE SOLD THE RANCH BEFORE HER DEATH IN 1907. (RECORDED TEXAS HISTORIC LANDMARK - 2015.) MARKER IS THE PROPERTY OF THE STATE OF TEXAS. 

APPLICATION NARRATIVE and BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR MURPHY RANCH HOUSE OFFICIAL RECORDED TEXAS HISTORIC LANDMARK MARKER:

 

 

THE MURPHY RANCH HOME

 

I.    CONTEXT

Famine,[1] religious persecution,[2] and political discrimination[3] led many Irish to make the long journey to America from the time of America’s early colonies throughout the next few centuries. During the Irish famine of the mid 1800’s, Irish families and relatives crowded onto chartered “coffin ships” given this name because about one in five died from disease or malnutrition during the journey. Families remaining in Ireland driven by fear they would never see their loved ones again held all night funereal wakes for the living before they boarded the ships.[4]   

Once in America, times were often still harsh. Employment was difficult and discrimination against Irish presented barriers toward experiencing the fruits of independence. Mexican lands to the South first owned by Spain and then by Mexico retained allegiance to the Catholic Church, a more welcome homeland for Irish.[5]

John McMullen and his son-in-law, James McGloin, both born in Ireland -- McMullen in County Donegal and McGloin in County Sligo, became merchant partners in Matamoros on the south side of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande-American name). Matamoros, then administered by the Mexican government of Coahuila y Texas, a state of Mexico after the revised Mexican Constitution of 1824,[6] was a bustling metropolis. No town existed immediately on the near northern side of the river until after the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

Matamoros attracted many Irish and like-minded entrepreneurs from other parts of the world. McMullen and McGoin later partnered with application for the empresa surrendered by Benjamin Drake Lovell and lost when Dr. John Purnell drowned on his way to examine the land. The empresa stretched from the Nueces River to the Medina River near San Antonio de Bexar. Their application was granted on August 16, 1828. As Empresarios they were to bring 200 Irish Catholic families from Ireland and the United States to colonize the area. [7]

II. Overview  

Empresarios McMullen and McGloin determined a site they named San Patricio de Hibernia in honor or the patron saint of Ireland as the seat of government for their colony. However, colonizing their empresa during tumultuous times between Mexico and Coahuila y Texas proved more problematic than either McMullen or McGloin had dreamed. Indian depredations, Mexican armies, desperados, disagreements, and disgruntled colonists took their toll. [8] The colony never reached the 200 family mark.

At the end of the Texas Revolutionary War in 1836 when Texas separated from Mexico and Coahuila, it became an independent republic. Only 84 Irish Catholic colonials had received land grants though a number of grants had also been issued to Mexican ranchers. The Republic of Texas chose to honor all of these Mexican land grants. Non-negotiated land in the empresa became Texas government land, and some of it was delegated to veterans of the Texas Revolution. Most of the rancheros sold and moved away after the war, though many laborers remained.[9]

Margaret Mary Healy, born in 1833 County Kerry, Ireland, was an Irish youngster who came with her father, Dr. Richard Healy and family, except for their deceased mother and surviving baby sister, Jeannie, to West Virginia (part of the state of Virginia) in 1839. On the way to Texas, Margaret's father passed away, leaving her with two aunts, two uncles, and two brothers who continued to Matamoros. There Margaret assisted her two aunts in operating a hotel. [10]

John Bernard (J.B.) Murphy, born in 1821 County Cork, Ireland, came to America in the early 1840s and on to Texas with his brother, Patrick Henry Murphy in 1846. J.B. joined the United States Army and was a reporter under Zachary Taylor in the American-Mexican War in 1846. After Monterrey fell to the United States, J.B. remained as editor of a paper written in English. [11] Later returning to Texas, he entered the commercial house of Strothers and Kathrens. From there, he ventured into his own trade market operating from Matamoros and expanding interests to Freeport (near later Brownsville), Corpus Christi, Laredo, and San Patricio. In Matamoros, he met fifteen year old Margaret Mary Healy at her aunts’ hotel, and they married on her sixteenth birthday, May 4, 1849.[12]

According to Sister Mary Immaculata, the following year J.B. and Margaret Mary bought Echo (pronounced Eeko) Ranch to enter the cattle business. It was located near the line that later separated San Patricio County and Live Oak County.[13]

J.B.’s brother, Patrick, married James McGloin’s daughter, Elizabeth, from whom the land which already had a storied past was purchased. John McMullen bought the land from the heirs of Patrick Neven, a pioneer grant recipient who died at Goliad with Fannin along with other men who lived in the area to become Live Oak County: [Patrick] McGloin (Nephew of James, mistakenly given his father’s name, John, at times.), John Ely, and Dennis McGowan.[14]

McGloin purchased the site from McMullen and deeded it to his daughter, Elizabeth. She and Patrick established a general store at the Echo stage stop. As early as 1846 Echo is a recorded mail stop for Jim Drury, who carried saddlebags of mail four days a week between San Antonio and Corpus Christi before post offices existed.[15] After the purchase of the ranchland, Margaret Mary continued a custom of handing all deeds over to the new owners, and the present day owners have a thorough record of each successive ownership change. [16]

By 1855, J.B. and Margaret Mary completed a large story and a half ranch house which graced the hill of The Point, as it was often called. At that time, the property was in the San Patricio boundaries. The ranch house sat some distance from the road and served as an inn for stagecoach travelers who needed an overnight stay.[17]  Shortly thereafter, Patrick and Elizabeth replaced their stagecoach stop with a new one room caliche building which was completed sometime between 1855 and 1857.[18] No documents have been found which describe the original stop.

In 1856, the Texas Legislature admitted Live Oak County as a separate entity from San Patricio, and the boundary line between the two was only two miles away from the Murphy property placing them on the Live Oak side.[19] J.B. applied for a post office at Echo which was granted in 1858 as the second post office in Live Oak County, and it was placed in the new stagecoach stop with the general store. The post office continued until October 27, 1879.[20]

The coming of the Civil War brought turnoil to ranchlands as well as the towns with repeated depredations from many sources. J.B. and Margaret Mary moved to Corpus Christi and focused on J.B.'s ventures and his law practice which led to his becoming a Judge and finally Mayor. Margaret Mary continued her works of charity begun earlier which her husband supported. Poor health brought John Bernard to his final demise in 1884. [21]

Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy answered a new calling as she began to find her way after J.B.'s passing. Appalled by the inability of many at Echo to attend services because no Catholic Church was near, she bought the stagecoach stop and made it into St. Stephen's Chapel where mass was celebrated monthly.[22]

Turning her energies toward the homeless African-American orphans in San Antonio left behind after the Civil War, she began working to better their station in life. In spite of multiple hardships in San Antonio, she purchased a piece of property and built St. Peter Claver’s Church for African Americans, a convent, and school for African American children which still serve in San Antonio today. [23]

Unable to recruit permanent faculty, she made trips to Ireland and brought back dedicated nuns to fulfill the mission. She began the order of The Sisters of the Holy Ghost which is known today as The Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate and received the title of Reverend Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy.[24] She helped establish other schools including one in Oaxaca, Mexico.[25] Until 1907, when she sold the Echo property to further these establishments, Echo served as a training ground and retreat for her teachers.

The J.B. and Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy Ranch Home is well preserved today. Exterior Cypress beveled wood paneled siding has withstood the test of time for the last hundred and fifty-nine years and seems ready for another hundred and fifty years at least. With the house facing the West and the Nueces River, large wooden windows allowed cooling breezes from the Nueces River and Coastal region to flow through. While cleaning accumulated paint, current owners found a screen latch dated with an 1856 patent. Graceful glass side panels and transom surround wooden door entrances while the old door runners and floorboards continue welcoming guests.

Three operative fireplaces bearing original mantels still in perfect condition date back to the home's beginning and retain the sophisticated ambiance of the home's bearing. One fireplace is in the master bedroom, and the other two are stacked -- one downstairs in the dining room and another above in an upstairs bedroom.

Custom in the mid-eighteen hundreds required unattached kitchens since most cooking was done in fireplaces and wood stoves. Kitchens built inside a house were all too often a fire hazard few wanted. Today, the first kitchen's fireplace, some distance from the house and made from near-by hewn caliche rock, sports swing-arm iron rods for holding cooking pots while its chimney rises reminiscent of days gone by. The Estes family uses this vestige of past grandeur for quiet evenings and relaxed gatherings with friends and family. [26] A subject marker for the Echo stagecoach stop stands nearby. Also preserved in the yard of the home today is the antiquarian artesian water well used as the sole source of water for the house in its early operative day.[27]

When the R.F. Sellers bought the home from Margaret Mary about 1907, they made tasteful updates to the exterior based on practical needs. The main purpose of these changes was two-fold: first, the road then came from the east instead of the west and had folks coming to the back of the house instead of the front. Secondly, because of increased cultural conveniences, interior enhancements such as closets, bathrooms, and kitchens as part of the overall floor plan had replaced the older house culture.

To meet these cultural and physical changes in their environment, the Sellers reversed the front and back entrances to have the house facing the road. The original doorways were reversed to maintain greater elegance for the front. The Victorian exterior which fit the sensibilities and style of the 1850s was changed to Greek Revival to reflect the movement of time since the home's beginning. A new front porch reached across the full extent of the front, and four Doric columns completed the sedate dignity of the home. The front porch, then the back of the house, was enclosed to form a kitchen which opened froma mud room entrance at the back door. The previously wide shotgun hallway was used only for the mudroom, but for a bathroom and closets for the bedrooms. Space was left at the front entrance for an ample entry hall. 

III.      Significance Documentation

 

        The J.B. and Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy Echo Ranch Home and Stagecoach Inn is not only valuable because of its enduring archtecture which was able to transition periods of Victorian and Southern style without significantly affecting structure or compromising stability. It has bested the test of time by lasting over 150 years and very ready to repeat that feat. However, it is even more beneficial because of the living legacy left with it by John Bernard and Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy. These original Irish participants in the history of Mexico, San Patricio Colony, Live Oak County, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and the State of Texas as owners and builders in society and community answered the needs of less privileged African-Americans and Hispanics.

 

          Many renovated Victorian homes become muddled compositions of conflicting architecture as they are updated. In the hands of the wrong people, this could very well have happened to the Echo Ranch Home and Inn. Instead, the flawless transition is relevant to the time before its renovation as well as after. Each change not only was useful but aesthettically pleasing and appropriate to its pragmatic purpose. The contributions of John Bernard and Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy to Live Oak County. Corpus Christi, and San Antonio's formative cultural and social maturation is beyond measure. Challenging the status quo to accept responsibility and offer opportunity to those within their reach who lacked that chance required vision, dedication, and courage.

 

Authors’ Note: The history of these two social leaders is all too often left unknown and unspoken. The authors learned of it by association with the present owners. Small vignettes documented in The Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook Online and equally small vignettes in local history books are all that exist beyond archival information in the hands of the owners and at St. Peter Claver’s.

     One biography of Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy written by Sister Turley is available. That particular book has invaluable information from the Catholic point of view and wonderful anecdotes from some who knew Margaret Mary. However, other sources such as courthouse documents and those fore mentioned contradict each other in numerous places. 

     History would be greatly benefitted by a permanent remembrance such as a marker with accurate information and other books which delve deeper into primary sources refining the mistakes in current lore. One of John Bernard and Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy’s greatest services is that their story brings together the broader picture of how the historical bond of Irish, Mexicans, and African-Americans work in conjunction with the total story of minorities striving toward America’s Dream.  

[Following extensive research even after marker application, present day owner, Andrea (Andi Estes) found original deeds and contracts in courthouse documents which contradict J.B. Murphy as the builder of the house but that it was most likely his brother, Patrick, and wife, Elizabeth, when they lived there. It now appears that the property was never owned by JB. It was first owned by Elizabeth and Patrick and later Margaret Mary Healey Murphy after the death of JB in Corpus Christi. Therefore, the title of the marker was able to be changed before the foundry made the marker. The title, "Murphy Ranch House" reflects ownership and contributions of each of the Murphy Families.]

 

IV.   Documentation


[1] John Dorny http://www.theirishstory.com/2012/01/03/war-and-famine-in-ireland-1580-1700/#.VGPYuGd0xOQ accessed October 25, 2014. Published by Irish History Online.

 

[2] Triona Carey http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/persec.html  accessed October 25, 2014. Published in In Motion Magazine-December 21, 1997.

 

[3] Ernest Cashmore. Dictionary of Race and Ethnic Relations. “Irish and Colonialism.”Routledge. London. 1996.181-184.

 

[4] Author unnamed. (http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/coffin.htm)  accessed October 25, 2014. Published by The History Place. 2000.

 

[5] TY Johnson. “Brownsville, Ireland, Mexico Share Special Bond.” The Brownsville Herald. March 16, 2014.

 

[6] Rachel Bluntzer Hébert. The Forgotten Colony. Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press. 1981. 13-14.

 

[7] Ibid. pp. 15-17.

 

[8] Mrs. G. S. Miller. Sixty Years in the Nueces Valley, 1970-1930. San Antonio: Naylor Press. 1930. 7.

 

[9]  Rachel Bluntzer Hébert. “McGloin, James,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmc61) accessed November 12, 2014, Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

[10] Sister Bernice Mallory, S.H.Sp, “Healy-Murphy, Margaret Mary,” Handbook of Texas Online   (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhe47)  accessed on November 3, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

[11] Sister Mary Immaculata Turley, S. H. G., Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy. San Antonio: Naylor Company. 1969. 17.

 

[12] Frank Wagner. “Murphy, John Bernard,” Handbook of Texas Online

http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmu37 accessed on November 10, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Asociation.

 

[13] Ibid.

 

[14] Ervin L. Sparkman. The People’s Book of Live Oak County, Texas. Mesquite: Ide House. 1981. 13.

 

[15] Ibid. 170.

 

[16] Interview with current homeowner, Andi Estes, November 7, 2014.

 

[17] Lena Beall Porter. Ed. Keith Guthrie. History of San Patricio County. Austin: Eakin Publications. 1986. 283.

 

[18] Ibid.

 

[19] Thelma Lindholm. The History of the People of Live Oak County, Texas. Publisher Unnamed. 1982. 7-8. Andrea Estes.

 

[20] Sparkman. Ibid. 170. Andrea Estes.

 

[21] Richard Hudson and Janis Hudson. Live Oak County. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2013. 16-17.

 

[22] Turley. 77.

 

[23] City of San Antonio Official Website. Office of Historic Preservation. “Healey-Murphy”. http://www.sanantonio.gov/historic/Districts/Healy_Murphy.aspx accessed on November 13, 2014.

 

[24] Turley. 69.

 

[25] Ibid.

 

[26] Estes. October 23, 2014.

 

[27] Ibid.

Live Oak County Courthouse

The Honorable Jim Huff, County Judge for Live Oak County, welcomes you to the Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) Website. The Live Oak County Historical Commission is an arm of the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court; appointees are selected at the beginning of odd numbered years and serve two year terms. Judge Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioners support and approve actions of the LOCHC in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission (THC).

 

Live Oak County Commissioners:

Precinct 1: Richard Lee

Precinct 2: Donna Kopplin Mills

Precinct 3: Willie James

Precinct 4: Emilio Garza

The Commissioner's Court is committed to the preservation of our county's history. Judge Huff and your local commissioner welcome suggestions.

The Honorable Jim Huff, Live Oak County Judge.

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