Bio-Pen Pictures

son of Martin and Mary (Buiger) Murphy, was born at Quebec, March 1, 1841, and was but three years of age when, with his parents, he made the historic journey across the continent and nine years of age when they came to Santa Clara Valley.  It may therefore be said that all his life has been passed in Santa Clara County, and devoted to the development of its resources.

            He was educated at Santa Clara College, graduating with honor in 1862.  On leaving college he began the study of law, first with Williams & Thornton and afterward with Campbell, Fox & Campbell, both eminent law firms of San Francisco.  Having passed the critical examination then required by the Supreme Court, he was admitted to the Bar in 1865.  However, he did not enter upon the practice of his profession, his law studies having been prosecuted more specifically for the purpose of enabling him more understandingly to perform his official duties and to manage the legal business connected with the vast family estate.  In politics he was a Democrat, and in 1869, at the age of twenty-seven years, he became a candidate for the Assembly, and in the election which followed he received the largest majority of all the candidates on the ticket.  In the session of the Legislature to which he was thus elected, his legal ability was recognized by an appointment on the Judiciary Committee, in the deliberations of which his opinions carried great weight.

            During the winter of 1869-70, the question of locating the State Normal School came before the Legislature.  Nearly every county in the State offered a site, and some of them a money premium.  The battle for this institution was long and bitter.  Mr. Murphy determined from the first that San Jose should have the school.  In an eloquent manner he presented to the committee and to the Assembly the great advantages possessed by this location.  Day and night he labored with all his ability, and a zeal born from his conscience, and secured the passage of a bill by the Assembly fixing San Jose as the future site of this institution.  The bill went to the Senate and there the battle was renewed, but Mr. Murphy’s vigilance defeated its enemies, and he was able to announce to his constituents the consummation of their wishes.

            But the enemies of San Jose were not yet defeated.  Having lost the school, they determined that San Jose should have no benefit from it, and resolved to oppose any adequate appropriation for its buildings or maintenance.  This warfare was more dangerous than the other, inasmuch as it united the representatives of all other counties who wanted the location, against Santa Clara County.  But even this opposition Mr. Murphy was able to meet and dissipate, and to secure an ample appropriation for the institution. 

            The skill with which Mr. Murphy handled this matter and the zeal that he displayed in carrying out the wishes of his constituents, commanded the gratitude of his people, and in 1873, when his term as member of the Assembly had expired, they, without regard to party affiliations, called upon him to take charge of the affairs of the city as its Mayor.  His large property interests demanded his attention, and he would have avoided this call could he have done so conscientiously.  But, believing that personal consideration should be subservient to public duty, he accepted the trust, and for four years continuously gave his best abilities to the service of the city.  During his incumbency as Mayor, he never drew a cent of the salary pertaining to that office, but donated it all to the use of the free public library, which donation he supplemented from time to time with liberal gifts from his private purse.

            He served as Mayor until 1877, when the people thought they needed his services in the ensuing Legislature and elected him to the Senate by an overwhelming popular vote.  At this session he was instrumental in framing and enacting the laws providing for a convention to reform the constitution of the State.  During this term there was developed from some hidden source an organized attack on the benevolent and charitable institutions of the State.  Mr. Murphy proved himself an able champion of these institutions, and succeeded in defeating their enemies.  To his zeal in his behalf, the Ladies’ Benevolent Society of San Jose owes the liberal appropriation which it received at that session.  The suggestions made by him in regard to government and support of charitable institutions were afterward, in substance, incorporated into the constitution, and became a part of the organic law of the State.

            At this session came up also the question of the State Normal School.  The competing counties had never forgiven San Jose for carrying away this prize, and had always shown a disposition to cut down the appropriation for its support.  San Jose had donated to the State twenty-two acres of ground in the heart of the city as a site for this institution.  Heretofore the appropriations had been only sufficient for the current expenses of the school.  One of the first acts of Mr. Murphy when he took his seat in the Senate was to ask through the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, for money enough to improve the grounds of the State Normal School.  This, to those who had opposed the location of the school in San Jose, was like flaunting a red flag in the face of a mad bull.  They were determined that this appropriation should not be made, and many were the combinations put up both in Senate and Assembly to defeat this clause of the bill.  But after a desperate struggle, the bill finally passed both houses with the appropriation intact.

            Mr. Murphy’s service as Mayor had familiarized him with the wants of the city, and while in the Senate secured the enactment of several laws for its benefit, notable among which was the act prescribing the method of improving the streets, and under which the city worked so successfully until the new Constitution went into effect.

            At this session, also, Mr. Murphy finished one of his greatest works in behalf of this community, in securing the passage of the law authorizing the Board of Supervisors to fund, without interest, the warrants held by the Lick Board of Trustees, for the construction of the Mount Hamilton road.  For the history of his transaction it will be necessary to go back a few years.  Mr. Lick’s first deed of gift contained a clause devoting $750,000 to the construction and equipment of an observatory, which was to be provided with a telescope having the largest and most powerful lens known to science.  Mr. Murphy was named as one of the Trustees, and took early occasion to point out to Mr. Lick that the proper location for the observatory would be Mount Hamilton, in Santa Clara County.  Mr. Lick’s objection to this proposition was that the mountain was inaccessible, there being no road to the summit.  Mr. Murphy finally induced Mr. Lick to say that if there was a good road to the summit he would locate the observatory on Mount Hamilton.  Mr. Murphy took the next train to San Jose, secured a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and, going before them, accompanied by Judge Belden, showed them the great desirability of securing this magnificent institution for our county.  The Supervisors agreed with him, but were, owing to technicalities of the law, powerless to act.  The road would cost a large sum, variously estimated at from $60,000 to $120,000.  The law required that all money collected in any road district by taxation should be expended in that district, and as the proposed road lay entirely in one district it would be too great a burden. Besides, they had nothing in the shape of a legal contract to show that Mr. Lick was not at liberty to change his mind after the road was constructed.  The last objection was the one most difficult to answer, but it was finally met by giving a personal guarantee that Mr. Lick would stand by his proposition.  A preliminary survey of the country was made, and a practicable route discovered.  Mr. Murphy returned to Mr. Lick, and so represented matters to him that he not only made the contract asked by the Board, but offered to loan the county money with which to build the road.  It is not possible, in this brief sketch, to give in detail all the work done by Mr. Murphy to accomplish this work, but it is a historical fact that to Mr. Murphy is due the location of the Lick Observatory upon Mount Hamilton.  Of the money needed to construct the road, Mr. Lick and his Trustees furnished something more than $65,000, taking therefore county warrants.  It was a portion of these warrants that Mr. Murphy, while a member of the Senate, succeeded in funding without interest, saving to the county something near $20,000.

            The people desired, in 1878, to send him as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but he said that as he had been instrumental in securing the passage of the law calling the convention, it would be indelicate for him to become a member of it.  For this reason he firmly refused to allow his name to be presented as a delegate.  The people, however, seemed determined to have his services in some capacity, and almost unanimously re-elected him as Mayor of the city.

            During his former term as Mayor there had been inaugurated a system for the improvement of the channel of the Guadaloupe River.  The waters of this stream had, by its almost constant overflow, been a source of great inconvenience and danger to the early settlers.  As the country became settled, and the brush cleared off, this annoyance decreased, but still, in heavy winters, the water would leave the banks, flooding the lower portion of the city, frequently coming up as far as the Convent wall.  Under Mr. Murphy’s administration the channel was cleaned out and straightened, and levees constructed along the banks, so as effectually to prevent incursions from the water, no matter how heavy might be the rainfall.

            In his last term as Mayor the present magnificent system of sewerage was given effect, and the city effectually barricaded against diseases having their origin in imperfect drainage.

            In 1880 the State Normal School buildings were burned to the ground.  Immediately a bill was introduced into the Legislature to re-locate the school, and the battle of ten years before was again renewed.  At this time Mr. Murphy was not a member of the Legislature and owed no extraordinary duty to its constituents; but he left his business, and, going to Sacramento, devoted his time, energy, and influence in behalf of San Jose.  After a struggle which continued during nearly the entire session, he succeeded in securing his object, and an appropriation was made with which the present magnificent buildings were erected.

            In 1883 he was again elected to the State Senate by a larger majority than was received by any other candidate on the legislative ticket.  It would be impossible to enumerate all the positions of trust Mr. Murphy has held, or all the public enterprises in which he has been a leading spirit.  He served as Judge Advocate General on the staffs of Governors Booth, Pacheco, and Irwin; he was Chairman of the Board of Freeholders to frame a new Charter for San Jose; he was chosen Presidential Elector at Large on the Democratic ticket in 1888; he stood by the San Jose Woolen Mills when that enterprise was about to fail, and with money and counsel assisted to make it a success; with the exception of one term, he has been President of the Commercial and Savings Bank since its organization; in short, he has never been out of office since he left school.  Although a man of great intelligence and information, he has never been out of the limits of the State of California on any extended traveling tour.  Whatever journeys he has made have been hurried trips on business.  In his extensive business relations he has come in contact with hundreds of people of all nationalities, of all sorts of dispositions, and in all walks of life, and they are all his friends.  Like his father and grandfather, he is noted for his charities, and when worthy objects are presented to his notice they receive assistance, without regard to nationality or religious creed.

            Mr. Murphy was married, in 1869, to Miss Annie McGeoghegan, and has a large family of talented children.

Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888. p.  613-616

Transcribed by Kathy Sedler


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight