The Area's Only Victorian House Museum
A local landmark since its construction in 1888, the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House welcomes you. Step back in time and enjoy a guided tour, learn about local history, join our book club, take tea, attend a lecture, host a party or special event. There's always something new to see and do at the Castle on the Hill!
The history of the Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House, or the "Castle on the Hill," begins with Thomas Winthrop Shelton and his wife, Adah. The Sheltons made the move from Salem to Eugene with their daughter, Alberta, in 1873. After buying 320 acres in downtown Eugene, including Skinner's Butte, from pioneer Mary Skinner, Dr. Shelton hired architect Walter Pugh to design a home to sit on the slope of the butte overlooking downtown and the train station. Nels Roney served as the builder. The home was completed in 1887; however, an aggrieved workman set fire to the house (only admitting to the crime once on his deathbed decades later) and the home had to be rebuilt. The building was completed in 1888, for a total cost of $8,000. 1888 is marked on the western elevation of the house.
Dr. Shelton, Adah, and Alberta lived in their Victorian castle until Dr. Shelton died of leukemia in 1893, at the age of 49. After her husband's death, Adah moved to Portland and gave the house to her daughter. Alberta lived there with her husband, Robert McMurphey, whom she had met at a Christian Endeavor Conference in Minnesota. The couple had four daughters and two sons. Alberta and Robert were married in the parlor of the Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House, and three of their four daughters went on to be married in the same place (in the alcove created by the cornering of the bay windows in the parlor).
The McMurphey children spent their days in the house practicing music, sewing their own clothes, and helping out around the home with chores, such as dusting and bringing wood up from downstairs via the dumbwaiter in the kitchen. Music was an important pastime in the household, as Alberta had graduated from a piano conservatory at the University of Oregon and taught piano lessons for some time. This Queen Anne style, Victorian house was not just a home for a privileged family in Eugene, it also served as a farmstead of sorts. The McMurpheys kept horses, cows, and chickens, and the children helped tend to them.
Robert McMurphey died in 1921 in Roseburg, Oregon. Alberta spent the majority of her years living in the house atop the hill, and remained an active member of the community in Eugene for 28 years following her husband's death. She died in a nursing home in Portland in 1949, and the house was sold to Eva Johnson and Eva's husband, Curtis Johnson.
Dr. Eva Johnson was born in Pendleton, Oregon, but moved with her mother to Eugene following her father's tragic death in the Blue Mountains. They lived with Eva's grandmother in the Campbell House, just around the corner from the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House. Growing up, Eva was close to the McMurphey children, and spent much of her time at their home. She grew up loving the house and hoped to someday own it. When Alberta died, none of the six McMurphey children decided to take on the responsibility to keep the house, so it went on the market and Eva purchased it for $30,000.
Eva and her husband Curtis had met at Rush Medical School in Chicago. They had two daughters and two sons, and spent 25 years practicing medicine in Madison, Wisconsin. Eva studied psychology and Curtis served in the U.S. Army, including a stint as the pediatrician for General Douglas MacArthur's son. Once Curtis was honorably discharged in 1950, the Johnsons moved to Eugene and opened up offices within their new house on the hill. Eva specialized in personal and divorce counseling.
Curtis spent much of his time in Eugene unhappy, and would lock himself away in the turret within the attic. He once actually locked himself in the turret (the door locked from the outside) and had to cut a hole in the wall so that he could reach out and open the door. In 1966 Eva sold 3.25 acres of land to a group planning to build retirement homes, which became the Ya-Po-Ah Terrace high-rise apartment tower. Curtis died the following year, in 1967, and Eva continued to live in the house, renting rooms out to university students.
In 1975, Eva offered the house to her children; however, none of them were able to take it, so she made a deal with the Lane County Historical Society: they could have the house, but she would be able to live there until she died. She died in 1986 at age 97, and the house was subsequently transferred from Lane County to the City of Eugene. The house is now kept open to the public by the nonprofit Shelton McMurphey Johnson Associates.