An excellent short history of Murphy College is provided by J. H. Sharp on the Sevier County Historical Society web page. The Old KnoxvilleBaseball website has three pages from the 1927 Smoky, the school yearbook. Otherwise, information comes from short entries in the Methodist yearbook or the Architecture. The basketball image (above) is from the Knoxville Sentinel.
Murphy College opened in January 1892 as successor to Nancy Academy. Sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church, the new school was created for the purpose of “preparing students to become teachers.” It contained both collegiate and preparatory departments. In 1915 there were only 12 students in the collegiate department and 152 preparatory students. The course of study apparently was strongly liberal arts, containing “Latin, Greek, English, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, botany and psychology.” A Methodist school, it still allowed students to attend the church of their choice
Described in a news release from the Methodist Freedman’s Aid Society as a school organized by “poor whites,” Murphy College experienced financial problems early, being $4,000 in debt by 1895. The Freedman’s Aid Society made a gift of $1,000.
Like other small private colleges, Murphy was hurt when public high schools began to appear, draining off the preparatory departments. According to the Methodist yearbook, Murphy College boasted of a total enrollment of 456 in 1913. By 1929 that figure had dropped to 181. The Great Depression also cut into enrollment. As a result the last graduating class at Murphy College was in 1935.
Bricks and Mortar
Murphy College opened in a new building completed in 1892 by a black mason named Isaac Dockery, using bricks fired in a local kiln. By 1920 two problems emerged. First, the campus was bisected by a new railroad line. Second, the boys’ dormitory was destroyed by fire. The school was able to sell off the old property and buy a property on the edge of town. The Dockery building is still in use today as Sevier County School Board Office.
In 1921 architects designed and built a new campus that fit into the countryside—the buildings included an administration buildings, a chapel, and two dormitories.
After Murphy College closed, the campus was sold to the Church of God, which used it for its Bible Training School. In 1949 it became the home for the Church of God’s Smoky Mountain Children’s Home. It is still in use.
We have little available material on Murphy College athletics. According to the Old KnoxvilleBaseball website Murphy played the University of Tennessee twice in 1908 and once in 1916, losing all three games but playing well. The 1927 Smoky shows a photo of the baseball team.
College Football Data Warehouse shows football teams in the 1920’s with games against East Tennessee State in 1921 and 1922, against Tusculum in 1922, against Lincoln Memorial in 1923 and Union in 1924. The team also played against Maryville High School and Greenville High School during that same period.
The undefeated 1917 women's basketball team (image above) claimed the Tennessee state championship.
The 1927 baseball team. (Smoky, courtesy of the Sevier County Public library, photographer unknown)