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TOUR EXPOSES VICTORIAN HOME'S TORRID HISTORY.

Byline: Ben Fuchs The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 12/31/03): A headline on Page B4 Monday contained an error. The historic Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House in Eugene is more than 100 years old.

It's now one of the oldest and most prominent houses in Lane County, yet it almost didn't make it to its first birthday.

Built as a home for Eugene doctor Thomas Shelton, the Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House was just about finished in 1887 when a suspicious fire raged through the wooden structure, destroying large parts of the Victorian-style home. The cause of the blaze wasn't discovered until 40 years later, when a man on his deathbed confessed to intentionally setting the fire while working on the project.

Nevertheless, construction proceeded, the workers rebuilt the damaged sections of the house and, six months later, the 8,000-square-foot home was completed, overlooking downtown Eugene from its perch on the south slope of the then-barren Skinner Butte.

On Sunday, about 30 people passed through the historic hallways and oddly shaped rooms of the Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House, named for each of the three families that lived at the home at different times from 1888 to 1986, when the last occupant died and left the estate to the county. Aside from a few rooms that were closed to the public due to an ongoing restoration project, the green-and-red house was decked out in extravagant holiday decor, complete with seven Christmas trees spread throughout the building's four floors.

"We try to have one in every room," said Judy Bryant, an administrative assistant at the house.

Private donors have provided antique furniture and artwork to complement other period pieces left behind by the home's first residents, giving house visitors the feeling that they have stepped back a century or so in time.

"It's a neat old house," said Mike Sequeira, who checked out the home with his girlfriend and her children.

The house, built on Skinner Butte due largely to its proximity to the train station, was one of the largest residences in Eugene at the time, Bryant said. It dominated the hill, which was then covered mostly by grass. Now, however, the house is now shaded by tall trees and overshadowed by a neighboring retirement center.

While parts of the old house have steadily decayed - renovators, for example, recently shored up the foundation, which had been sinking, and replaced walls stricken with dry rot - the building's fans say modernizing the home is out of the question.

"I think Eugene got a lot of urban renewal, and I'm glad this house managed to escape that," said Megan Force, an art historian who fell in love with the house when she visited it as a sixth-grader. "I love history, so I love the house."

The five-year restoration project is scheduled to be completed sometime next year. The house's attic was recently finished, with a window cut into the ceiling to show the dwelling's original beams, which remain in place despite being charred during the fire. The exterior, which features a tower, a third-story porch and a large deck, has been repainted with the exception of the tower.

"The inside needs a lot of work, but the outside's great," said Eugene resident Don O'Brien, 66, who visited the house with his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.

While the restoration project should be completed according to schedule, the long-term future of the house remains in doubt, Bryant said. The city of Eugene, which took control of the house when the county decided it couldn't manage it, is drastically reducing funding for the building's upkeep, Bryant said. By July 2005, the house will have to rely entirely on grants and private donations to stay afloat, she said, which could potentially force the house's caretakers to dramatically cut public access.

"The people that come here want to be here, want to learn," Bryant said. "It's important for people to remember their history."

CAPTION(S):

The 1888 Victorian style home was decorated for the season Sunday. A five-year restoration effort is set to be completed next year, with much of the remaining work to be done on the interior. Collin Andrew / The Register-Guard "I think Eugene got a lot of urban renewal, and I'm glad this house managed to escape that." MEGAN FORCE ART HISTORIAN
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Title Annotation:General News; A mysterious tale enlivens a public holiday showing of the Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 29, 2003
Words:709
Previous Article:OBITUARIES.
Next Article:FOR THE RECORD.


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