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Murphys Market

The history of the Murphys Market — also known as the Big Trees Hotel, Stephens Bros. Store, Red & White Store, Murphys Central Market, Stories in Stone, Tree House, and SNAC — is closely tied to three pioneer Murphys families: the Stephens and Hauselts, as well as the Riedels, who operated it as the Murphys General Store for many years.

Milton Stephens arrived in Calaveras County in the fall of 1850, settling first near Fourth Crossing and Lower Calaveritas. In 1858 he was married to Mary Melissa Thorpe, and between 1860 and 1884, eight children were born to the family. Two of their sons, James Moses and Benjamin, opened their first general merchandise store in 1886 in Murphys in the Dr. Jones Apothecary building on the northeast corner of Main and Algiers Streets. With the re-opening of the Sheep Ranch Mine in the late 1880s, the brothers opened a branch store there, and in 1897 established a telephone line between the two towns. That same year they purchased the Traver Store (present Museum) for $5000 and moved their Murphys store to that location.

In 1909 the brothers purchased the hotel, blacksmith shop, and saloon built by Philip and John Hauselt at the northwest corner (present location of the Nugget) of Main Street and Big Tree Road (now Big Trees Road), the main route to Ebbetts Pass. The Hauselts had purchased the land from Ephraim Cutting in 1892, building the hotel about 1895, where Philip worked as a “wagon blacksmith,” employing two other blacksmiths and a horse shoer. The property was sold to the Hendsch family of Copperopolis in 1902 and operated as the Hendsch Bros. Blacksmith Shop, Saloon, and Hotel until sold in 1908.

The lot where this building is presently located was the site of the Matteson & Garland Livery Stable for over 30 years. The building was consumed in a fire and explosion in 1893, started in a warehouse behind the Manuel & Garland Store (Museum). In 1911 the Stephens brothers purchased the empty lot from Mrs. Ada Matteson, and shortly thereafter tore down the Big Tree Hotel and used the lumber to construct the present building. In 1912 the land was assessed at a value of $200, with the building at $1000, an impressive amount for the time.

James Stephens operated the Stephens Bros. Cash Store in Murphys, selling general merchandise including clothing, shoes, canned goods, lamps, produce, and everything else one might want or need, while Ben operated the Sheep Ranch store. James and Mary Stephens and their family resided in a fine two-story Queen Anne home, built in 1900, located westerly on the north side of Main Street. Several members of the Stephens family worked as salesmen in the store over the ensuing years, and son Earl Benjamin and his family resided upstairs. Benjamin and Ann and their family, however, continued to reside in Sheep Ranch and operate that enterprise until the 1920s.

James M. Stephens died in 1921 and the store passed to his son James Raymond, who sold it to Walter Osselin in 1927. As Osselin was a gold miner who resided on his wife Mary’s Valente stagestop and boarding house on Sheep Ranch Road at Indian Creek, the store was operated by others. Walter died in 1932 and the property passed to his wife Mary Jane. Over the ensuing years the store was operated by Charlie and Beulah Burgess, Bill Hauser, Russell Combat and Irvin Tanner, Roy and Josephine Winhorst until sold to the Riedel family in the 1950s.

During the 1950s through the late 1970s, the building was operated as the Murphys Grocery Store by William (Buster) and Rose (Segale) Riedel and their son Bill. It was then purchased by John Kautz and Bob Hartzell who operated it briefly as the Murphys General Store; Pam and Russ Shoemaker operated it as Stories in Stones for about 20 years through the 1980s and 1990s; Linda Strangio then purchased and operated the building as the Tree House from 2000 to 2007 when it was sold and is now operated as a branch of the Sierra Nevada Adventure Company (SNAC).

The building was constructed in the false-fronted Italianate Commercial style of its era, with a bracketed cornice, recessed entryway, general store windows, porch roof over the sidewalk, and 2/2 light frame sash double-hung windows on the upper story. The upper story windows have been replaced with vinyl sash, false shutters attached, and a stone false foundation added in the 1990s, but the building is otherwise unaltered from its early 1910's appearance.

by Judith Marvin