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 Cook, 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).
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 wanted 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 died 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.
Our mission is to preserve the heritage of the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House for the benefit of current and future generations. We accomplish our mission by providing educational opportunities for the community and by hosting events and exhibits that highlight the people and history of Eugene.