The Murphy Story

(A detailed film, “The Forgotten Journey”, produced by John Krizek for PBS on DVD may be purchased in our museum gift shop)

The Martin Murphy party crossed the plains on their way to California in 1844. They were the first party to cross the Sierra Nevada in a covered wagon, the first to bring oxen across the plains and the first to use the route now used by Union and Pacific Railroads. The Donner party used the route two years later and Martin Murphy, Jr. was one of their rescuers.


Martin Murphy, Jr. settled in the area that is now Sunnyvale. He had his home milled to his specifications in Bangor, Maine and it was shipped around the Horn in 1850. It was assembled in Sunnyvale using wooden pegs and leather straps as there were no sawmills. It was the first frame house in the area. This house was continuously lived in by members of the Murphy family until it was given to the City of Sunnyvale in 1950. It was made a State Historical Landmark in 1958, but was unfortunately demolished by the city in 1961 due to extensive fire damage.

The Murphy house was the site of the largest private party ever held in California. The event was held in July of 1881, as a celebration of the Murphys’ 50th wedding anniversary. General invitations were sent out and it is estimated that over 10,000 people came. Special trains came from San Francisco and San José for it. The party lasted three days. Wood from the 1000 square foot dance floor constructed for the celebration was later donated to the priests for the first Mountain View Chapel there.

The Murphys played a very important part in early California history. Martin Murphy, Jr. is credited with founding Sunnyvale, bringing the railroad through his property and helping to establish the Convent of Notre Dame and Santa Clara College. These were the first institutions of higher learning in the area. His son was the first student enrolled and is the only layman interred in the Mission Chapel.

The Murphy family is credited with founding three towns in California. Martin Murphy Sr. started San Martin, Martin Murphy Jr. founded Sunnyvale and son John the town of Murphys in the Gold Country. Martin’s son James was the first bank commissioner, other family members were State Assembly and Senate members, and Martin was the first rancher to grow wheat in the Sacramento Valley. Martin’s original ranch in the valley was the site of the Alvarez-Castro insurrection. His sons John and Patrick were officers in the Mexican War.

Old Murphy Homestead 1907

Old Murphy Homestead 1907

Murphy Dining Room Photograph

Murphy Dining Room Photograph

Click Here to see portraits of the Murphy Family.

The Sunnyvale Historical Society and Museum Association has worked to recreate this historical house as a museum to tell the Murphy story and showcase the Murphy Family memorabilia.

Click Here to read about the history of the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum.

Copyright © 2018 Sunnyvale Historical Society and Museum Association, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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