Hunter’s Home focus shifts to ‘living history farm’
Cherokee Nation citizen David Fowler holds a root vegetable called salsify that was grown in a garden at Hunter’s Home in Park Hill. Fowler is also the home’s site director. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Built in 1845, Hunter’s Home, formerly called the George M. Murrell Home, is a National Register of Historic Places site tied to the influential Cherokee family of John Ross, principal chief from 1828-66. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Chickens are seen June 10 on the property of Hunter’s Home in Park Hill. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Paintings of Minerva (Ross) Murrell (1819-55) and husband George M. Murrell (1808-94) hang in the parlor of Hunter’s Home in Park Hill. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL – Caretakers of Oklahoma’s last remaining pre-Civil War plantation say they’re adapting to declining budgets and waning interest in “old house museums” by embracing outdoor opportunities on the sprawling property.
Hunter’s Home site director David Fowler, a Cherokee Nation citizen, said the Oklahoma Historical Society-run, 45-acre property is undergoing a facelift to recreate 1850s farm life.
“We started looking at what we were doing and it was like, ‘hey, we’re a massive farm in Cherokee Nation,’” he said of the once “upscale, sophisticated Victorian-era” farm. “There were a lot of things going on here, and it’s almost impossible for us to tell that story just to come in and look at furniture and tell about the family.”
The move follows several years of budget cuts approaching 50%, Fowler said.
“So we’ve really had to change the way we operate,” he added. “Most of our operations were covered by the state funding. Then all of a sudden that has been taken away, and we’ve had to get extremely creative. At the same time, one of the things happening as well was that old house museums weren’t real popular. So our visitation, that demographic was changing. They wanted to see other things. You know, it’s time for us to change with the times.”
Built in 1845, Hunter’s Home, formerly called the George M. Murrell Home, is a National Register of Historic Places site tied to the influential Cherokee family of John Ross, principal chief from 1828-66. Murrell, born to a prominent family in Lynchburg, Virginia, was married to Ross’ niece, Minerva.
“It was owned by Minerva Ross, and that’s kind of a misunderstanding that some people have,” said Choctaw Nation citizen Jennifer Frazee, one of the site’s two historical interpreters. “After the Department of Tourism and Recreation took it over back in the 1980s or 1990s, they turned the place into the George Murrell home. But that is a miscommunication because he was a white man and he didn’t have any rights out here. So, it was Minerva’s being the Cherokee citizen and being the woman of the tribe. She owned the plantation.”
Frazee and fellow historical interpreter Lisa Rutherford, a Cherokee National Treasure, study the site’s history.
“It was a little nugget of huge amounts of culture and fashion and literature and art,” Frazee said. “All these things were going on at the time here. It was just an amazing place full of life.”
The site, Frazee said, “tells the story of Cherokee Nation.”
“But because it’s the only antebellum planation mansion left here in the state, by default it also kind of lets people understand what the rest of the tribes were like,” she said. “If I had a penny for every person who came out here and said that they thought Indians lived in teepees and, you know, wore leather loin cloths and all that, I would be rich enough to fully fund this place myself.”
Outdoor restoration efforts include the re-establishment of beehives, gardens, chickens, an apple orchard and cider mill. Grant funding will be used to repopulate the property with livestock such as sheep.
“We do the gardening,” Frazee said. “We make dyes and medicines. We weave. We spin wool. We take care of the chickens. We cook out here in 19th century style. We do 19th century craft skills and trades. When people come out here, we hope that they are going to be able to immerse themselves into what it was like in the 19th century on a Cherokee plantation before the Civil War.”
In a move that drew criticism, site caretakers closed a public park east of the home following spates of restroom vandalism, theft from vehicles and arson.
“We got a lot of flak over closing the park,” Rutherford said, noting that, “We just can’t keep an eye up there.”
The former park now houses a livestock interpretive area, part of the larger effort to restore the property to its 19th century glory. Also, a nature trail is being cleaned for availability to paying customers during operating hours.
The future of a signature fall event, Antique Agriculture Festival, is uncertain.
“We’re not sure where our big events are going,” Fowler said. “Big events that we used to have just aren’t as well attended as they were 10 years ago, even four or five years ago. It might be that our visiting public, they might be more comfortable in a smaller, more intimate setting. We need to be willing to accommodate that. Big, large events might not be the thing that anybody wants to go to anymore.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the home is closed to the public, but the property is open.
“The finishes in our historic home will not stand up to the cleaning chemicals necessary to protect our visitors from COVID-19,” the Hunter’s Home website states. “The grounds are open, and programming is taking place outside. The grounds are limited to 20 visitors at one time.”
Operation hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Temporarily discounted admission rates are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors 62 and up, $2 for students 6-18 years of age, free for children 5 and under and $18 for families of up to six. Veterans, active military and OHS members get in free. For information, call 918-456-2751 or visit okhistory.org