This past weekend, my daughter and I set off on a gorgeous late spring morning, just after torrential rains and window-shaking thunderstorms the night before. The storms had brought in cooler temperatures, which get fewer and farther between as we head toward summer out here in Oklahoma.
We were headed toward The Murrell Home in Park Hill, OK, just outside of Tahlequah. It was a place I’d read about that sounded very intriguing, but I wasnt prepared for such a gorgeous house in breath-taking grounds. Here, in the woodlands of Oklahoma of all places, was a wonderfully restored antebellum home, built just after the Trail of Tears in the 1840s. It is the only remaining home from this time period in Oklahoma. And I was in love with it from the get-go.
The story of this house is so intriguing, and it no small feat that it still stands today. It was built by merchant George M. Murrell, who had married Minerva, the niece of Principal Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation. The ancestral lands of the Cherokee were in the southern states, and George, a native Virginian, met the Ross family in Tennessee when he started working for Lewis Ross.
In quite the shocking turn of events, George ran off with Lewis Ross’s 15 year old daughter Minerva and got married. It seemed to have worked out alright though, because Murrell was welcomed into the prestigious Ross clan as a son. And when government pressures led to the forced removal of the Cherokees from their ancestral land, the Murrells joined their Ross family members and made the arduous and often deadly trip to Indian Territory to start a new life. This trek has now become known as The Trail of Tears.
The Murrell and Ross families settled in the small community of Park Hill, near modern day Tahlequah, living first in a log cabin by the creek, and then building their gorgeous Greek Revival Plantation home. The Murrells, having originated in Virginia, were slave owners, and some Cherokee families also owned slaves. Slave labor was used to create the home and outbuildings and running of the household. It’s hard to imagine how a marginalized people could marginalize others, but that is an uncomfortable part of history that cannot be ignored. We must learn from it.
And while the Murrells, with their general store business and connection to the Ross family were affluent in their time in place, their high rank in society couldnt prevent Minerva from contracting Malaria, which she battled for several years until succumbing to fever. A couple of years later, George Murrell married Minerva’s younger sister, Amanda, and together they had 6 children.
The plantation thrived through the next two decades, but then the entire area of northeastern Indian Territory was ravaged by the Civil War. Union and Confederate soldiers both rampaged and looted the area, burning or destroying many of the homes and buildings of the settlers, including the home of Chief John Ross. Somehow the Murrell’s Home, called Hunter’s Home because George liked to indulge in English style fox hunts on the grounds, survived.
The Murrells left the territory for the duration of the war, leaving it in the care of Ross family members. After the war they did not return to live there full time, preferring to stay in other family homes in Virginia and Louisiana. However, the Indian Territory house remained in Ross family hands into statehood. The home passed through a series of owners from 1912 to 1948, when it was bought by the state of Oklahoma and opened as a museum in the 1950s. The first curator of the museum was Jennie Ross Cobb, who had lived in the house as a child, and remembered the decor and furniture of the home from childhood. Because of her efforts and expertise, about 80% of the furnishings in the home are original to the home, having been gathered back from Ross family members to return to the house.
There is a gorgeous working garden in the back yard, and you can buy the produce freshly picked from it. There is a smokehouse on the property build in the 1890s, a spring house right on the bank of the creek, and smaller log outbuilding on the grounds.
It is a beautiful living history museum, and I was excited to hear that they have living history events every third saturday. This saturday they were making corn husk dolls, and Audrey was able to make one of her own. There were also chickens, baby turkeys and an accommodating cat on the grounds, all of which Audrey had to fawn and fuss over. I think she loved it just as much as I did! I cant wait to go back to visit. You can check their website for more coming events. I am anxious for the fall when they’ll have an antique farming event and also ghost story tours near halloween.
After our self guided tour of the house (no pics inside, sorry to say!) and petting all the animals and exploring the grounds, we headed back towards home. If you’re a lover of history, classic architecture, heirloom gardening, or just gorgeous places in general, The Murrell Home is a wonderful place to visit!
Perhaps I’ll see you there?