BURT – For more than 30 years, Carol L. Murphy worked tirelessly to preserve and share the history of the McClew Farm, better known as “Murphy Orchards” to locals and visitors alike.
And now, with Murphy’s death on May 22 at age 69, her three children have vowed to continue her important work “for the foreseeable future.”
“My brothers and I intend to keep the farm open and operating – everything will stay open, the same as always,” said Murphy’s daughter, Alexandra Matalavage.
Matalavage said her brothers, Ted and Reed Murphy, who both live in New York City, are in constant contact but will leave the day-to-day operations to her and her daughter, Catie, who is a college student. Murphy also leaves four other grandchildren.
“It’s been (run by) my mother and now it will be my daughter and me – two more Murphy women,” said Matalavage, a Burt resident.
Matalavage called her mother “the hardest-working person I have ever known in my life, and she taught a lot of people a lot of good things as well.”
Murphy purchased the 65-acre site in 1979 and renamed it “The Historic McClew Farmstead at Murphy Orchards” and it is where she raised her children. It is a working fruit farm featuring a tea room, U-pick orchards, a barn filled with goods canned on site, and Underground Railroad historical tours, as well as agricultural and environmental conservation tours.
The McClew Road farm dates back to 1850 and was proclaimed a “Local Historic Landmark” in 2003 by the Town of Newfane. The farm also has been recognized as part of the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and is part of the New York State Heritage Trail.
The McClew Interpretive Center was founded in 2005 as a charitable, not-for-profit organization, to acquire all real property and take over operations of the McClew farmstead from Murphy Orchards.
“We did this to preserve and share the history of the McClew farm for future generations,” Murphy said in a Buffalo News interview last September. She added at the time that she hoped the National Parks or New York State Parks would take it over.
At the heart of Murphy’s mission was her opportunity to tell the story of Charles and Anna Maria McClew, who built the striking, red brick Italianate home and founded the farm in 1850. Murphy had marveled that the extended McClew family farmed more than 1,000 acres using horses in a pre-tractor era, and helped found the New York Farmers’ Society, which led to the New York Farm Bureau. They also invited Cornell University into this area to learn about innovative farming practices, which led to the formation of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, she had noted.
Matalavage called preservation of the site “huge.”
“There has been way too much in the world just bulldozed and replaced with something else,” she said. “But there is so much history in this area. We have Old Fort Niagara, the War of 1812 – a lot has happened in this area and this farm was absolutely in the middle of it. We need to preserve and share it … There is so much to learn here.”
Murphy also felt it was important to remind people that the McClews were ordinary people who made “a moral commitment to make the Underground Railroad effort part of their lives.” She said last fall that she didn’t know of the family’s ties to the Underground Railroad when she purchased the farm, but subsequent research led to the National Parks designation.
Today, there is an opening in the barn floor, protected by a small fence, where visitors may peer down a lit path to the first floor under the barn, which sheltered runaway slaves on their way to freedom in nearby Canada. It has long been a popular field trip experience for local schoolchildren.
Matalavage said many have offered help in making this new, generational transition of stewardship.
“It’s been unbelievable how friends have become family along the way,” she said. “They have really stepped up to help us because my mom meant so much to them.”
A memorial service for Murphy will be held at 2 p.m. June 9 at Murphy Orchards.