Stories from the past

shared photo

The Murphy girls are, front row from left, Lucille Townsend, Ruth Woodford, Estelle Hassler, back row, Jo Fulford and Claudine Ledbetter.

by Gypsy Girl

(Emily Sells)

The Murphy Girls

This story was written a number of years ago when most, if not all, of the Murphy Girls were still living. On December 28, 2020, the last of that family of girls, Josephine (Jo) Murphy Fulford, passed away at the age of 90. In memory of Jo, as well as the entire Murphy family, here is their story:

On August 10, 1913, a young man named Joseph Henry Murphy, who was originally from the Sulphur Creek Community near Peytonsburg, KY, a small community just across the state line from Celina, took as his bride, Mary Lou Clark, a young lady who grew up in the Mt. Pisgah community, near Fellowship and Willow Grove in Clay County.

Henry Murphy was a merchant by trade, and owned a store in the Lilly Dale community for a while. He and Mary Lou then moved to Taylor’s Crossroads where he also ran a store in that community. The business he ran in Taylor’s Crossroads will be remembered by many as J.D. Coleman and Sons General Merchandise.

Henry and Mary Lou Murphy had five daughters, Claudine, Estelle, Lucille, Ruth, and Jo.

The family lived in the house next door to the store in Taylor’s Crossroads, and then moved to a house not too far from the store, now the home of Shirley (Melton) Garrett.

Country stores were always places where older men often gathered, and while there, tell tall tales, or just visit. It was at the store in Crossroads that Ruth learned many verses of the song “The Roadside Store” from listening to the older fellows who stopped by.

But the family did not remain in the Taylor’s Crossroads Community too long. After giving up the business in Crossroads, they moved by mule and wagon to Keaton Street in Livingston. There was nothing but dirt roads in or around the town of Livingston at that time, and that part of town was considered the country, with very few homes having been built there. Part of the property the Murphys owned included what is now Livingston City Park, and at that time it was just a pasture, as well as the area where Coleman Brothers Exxon is now.

When the Murphys moved to Keaton Street, the road was what Estelle called a “loblolly”. Keaton Pond was just across from the Murphy home.

And along with the five daughters, Henry’s parents lived in their home also. The Murphy girls worked just as hard as any family who had boys. They raised a big garden, had a cow, and raised hogs and chickens, too. The girls would carry water from Keaton Pond when it came time to set out sweet potato plants each year. Fertilizing cabbage plants with chicken manure was another chore the girls had to do.

On certain occasions the other girls would get out of working in the garden, leaving Ruth and Estelle to continue on by themselves. When this happened, her sisters never got very far without being pelted with dirt clots from Ruth.

Henry Murphy owned a Model T automobile, and would sometimes gather his family, including the grandparents, and head out to the Sulphur Creek community to visit relatives. It was necessary to cross the Obey River to get to the home of the relatives, and if the river was up, sometimes the car would stall right in the middle of the river. It was not unusual for someone who lived along the river bank to have to come to the rescue of the Murphy family, and bring a mule along to pull the car out of the river.

The girls would be quite frightened when this happened and would have to get up in the seat because the water from the river would be running through the floorboard of the car. Picking up their feet was kind of hard to do since there would be a total of eight people squeezed into the car.

On one occasion, the car refused to start after being pulled out of the river, and Henry and Mary, along with the oldest two daughters, had to push the car quite a distance, jumping in to ride when they came to a place where the road went downhill.

After moving to Livingston, Henry ran a restaurant in a building behind Union Bank, which at that time, was located on the corner of East Main and Church streets. Harrison Ledbetter, who later became Claudine’s father-in-law, did the cooking at this restaurant. He then operated another restaurant in a building that stood where John Officer’s law office is now situated. Mary Lou made pies for the restaurant, and these would be carried in a basket by one of the daughters from their home to the restaurant to be served for dessert.

Henry’s career then changed from the restaurant business to a dry cleaning business. The first building where he operated a dry cleaner stood near the street on property where Union Bank & Trust Company is now. During the days Henry operated a dry cleaner, part of his business included driving to Twinton, Wilder, Crawford and Highland to pick up clothes that needed to be cleaned. He would bring them back to Livingston, and then drive back to each of those areas to return the cleaned items to his customers.

This business was eventually sold to Willard Maynord, and another dry cleaning business was opened on Church Street called Modern Cleaners which Henry operated for several years.

In between having the two dry cleaning businesses, Henry and Mary Lou lived in Detroit, but returned to Tennessee after a short time and opened the second dry cleaner.

Mary Lou Murphy would certainly be considered as a person who never had a lazy bone in her body. She remained quite active all her life, and even at the age of 95 years-old, she was still mowing her own yard.

She was an exceptional seamstress and did alterations for many people around Livingston for a number of years. The extremely beautiful handwork she did, such as tatting, embroidery, and drawn work on pillowcases, is almost a lost art today. Weaving on large looms was taught to Mary Lou by her grandmother who used sheep’s wool and flax to make beautiful woven fabrics.

While her daughters were growing up, Mary Lou made all their clothes. Much of the material used for their dresses came from Taylor and Holman, a business on the square in Livingston. The fabric could be bought for 25¢ a yard, and a dress could be made for around $1, including the spool of thread.

Mary Lou always raised a very large garden as long as she was able.

She was in her 60s when she learned to drive, and it was her son-in-law, Otto Ledbetter, who taught her. He would drive her over to a field behind the Arnold Moore residence, and that was where she learned to drive.

Although the times were extremely hard when the Murphy girls were growing up, and they knew nothing but hard work, it didn’t take away from the fact that they were all considered beautiful girls. Estelle told me they didn’t have any trouble getting fellows who wanted to court them, and some fellows they didn’t care for at all were included in that number. The young men who won the hearts of the Murphy girls were: Claudine’s husband, Otto Ledbetter; Estelle’s husband, Harold H. Hassler; Lucille’s husband, Allen B. Townsend; Ruth’s husband, Elmer Woodford; and Jo’s husband, Clarence Jackson Fulford.

Each daughter seemed to have inherited her mother’s strength and stamina, but it must have been from their father that they each got their well-dressed and always extremely neat appearances, as I was told Henry always made sure he was well-groomed when he went anywhere.

The homes of each of the Murphy girls I visited in over the years were beautifully furnished, very tastefully decorated, and well cared for.

I was glad for the opportunity to share a lot of wonderful memories with the Murphy girls as they recalled their growing-up years when crossing the river in a car was nothing out of the ordinary.