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2009-07-10 08:12:00
The Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House has been a landmark in Eugene, Oregon for more than a century. Although many changes have been made over the years, the house - with its carved and turned exterior wood work, polygonal tower, ornate open porches, and large bay windows - remains Eugene's most elaborate example of Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival style architecture. The single most remarkable feature of the SMJ House landscaping is its setting on the south slope of Skinner Butte. In fact, when the house was built in 1888, it was often referred to as the "Castle on the Hill" because of the panoramic views of Eugene and the surrounding hills. The original owners, Dr. T.W. Shelton and his wife, Adah, at one time owned all of Skinner Butte. The original estate has been greatly reduced in the area during the latter half of the 20th century. Today the property is a little over an acre in size. The location of the house on a terrace with a commanding view is in the tradition of the Italian Renaissance villa or the English manor house. The main terrace afforded level ground for formal gardens to the east and west of the house, while to the south a series of hillside terraces offered the potential for additional gardens. Over the years a number of changes have been made in the original floor plan. An upstairs bathroom was added, replacing the need for a washstand waste jar and under-the-bed chamber pot. An upstairs sleeping porch was constructed around 1912. All eight members of the McMurphey family slept on the porch, using heated bricks wrapped in towels to keep their feet warm in the winter. The history of the house includes two major fires. A disgruntled construction worker set the first fire in 1887. A second fire, in 1950, destroyed part of the central core of the house which was being remodeled by the Johnson's. In 1951, the Johnson's replaced the turret, which had been removed in 1915. They also restored the exterior of the house and repainted it in the original green. Later, the upstairs sleeping porch was converted to a kitchen, as rooms were rented to single parents and later university students.