Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good walk in the woods, and we are beyond lucky to have more than 20 hiking trails throughout the island. One of my absolute favorite hikes is up to the Murphy Great House. But before I get into the actual hiking aspect of today’s post, I’d like to tell you a bit about this part of the island and its history.
The Murphy Great House, which is located at the Annaberg plantation, is named for James Murphy, an Irish shipowner, St. Thomas merchant and slave trader. Mr. Murphy bought Waterlemon Bay back in 1796, and renamed it Leinster Bay soon thereafter, according to the St. John Historical Society. Within a year of owning the parcel, Murphy acquired Annaberg and Mary Point estates and then added a portion of the former deWintsberg estate, known as Betty’s Hope. He then started to build what was considered at the time to be a state-of-the-art sugar factory at Annaberg.
(The Annaberg site still remains and is maintained by the Virgin Islands National Park. You can view the former windmill, horse mill, boiling house, remnants of the enslaved laborers’ village, cook house (built later on), and a beautiful garden, which is lovingly maintained by my dear friend Charles.)
Mr. Murphy continued to acquire land, and in 1803 added the Munsburry plantation to his landholdings. Four years later, he purchased the nearby Brown Bay estate. By that time, he had amassed 1,245 acres of land. And off that, 494 acres were planted in sugar cane. According to the St. John Historical Society, this was the largest amount of sugar land ever controlled by one person in the history of St. John.
Murphy House, the destination of this hike, is the former homesite of Mr. Murphy. It is located high on a hill, above the Annaberg plantation site, and overlooks Leinster Bay and the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The site has spectacular views of the British View Islands and beyond. The views, in my opinion, are some of the best on island. Mr. Murphy controlled this land until his death in 1808. The land was then appraised separately. Some was sold off to his creditors, while some was split among his heirs.
The hike to the Murphy Great House takes about 30 minutes or so in each direction. The time varies based on your pace, of course, and how often you choose to stop and take pictures along the way. I recommend sneakers for this hike, although it is doable in flip flops or sandals. I usually carry a bottle of water with me, although there are typically nice easterly breezes that cool you along the way.
To take this hike, you’ll want to park in the small lot below the Annaberg plantation. Then walk toward the water where you will see a sign for the Leinster Bay Trail. Follow the rocky path along the shoreline and through the mangroves. After about 15 to 20 minutes, you will arrive at the beach at Waterlemon Bay.
Walk across the sandy beach until you see an opening into the woods. Take a right into the woods, and, almost immediately, you see a sign for the Johnny Horn trail. You’ll want to walk toward the left and up a slight hill.
After less than five minutes, you will see a small path on your left that leads you to the former guardhouse site. This structure was purposefully located in a strategic spot, so the overseer was able to keep an eye on the the Fungi Passage, between Whistling Cay and Mary Point, and the Narrows, which separates Great Thatch and St. John.
From the guardhouse, continue your walk uphill. After a roughly five minute climb, you will come to an intersection. Take a left to visit Murphy Great House. (The trail continuing straight leads to the Brown Bay trail and ultimately out to Coral Bay.
Once you arrive, be careful of the loose stone at the bottom of the stairs. From atop the site, you will see Annaberg in the distance off to your left, Tortola to your right, Waterlemon Cay below, Great Thatch to the far right, and glimpses of St. Thomas and Jost Van Dyke, among other islands, in the distance. There is a picnic table up there as well, so perhaps pack a lunch or a snack or two, and soak in the beauty St. John has to offer. Check out some more pics I took for you…
Pretty incredible, isn’t it?
Please check back tomorrow to see a video I took from my hike. It’s a bit long, so I decided to save it for its own post. In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful day. And if you’d like to see more of the island or perhaps learn a thing or two about St. John’s amazing history while having an amazing day during your vacation, please be sure to check out Explore STJ island tours at www.ExploreSTJ.com
I’ve been coming to St John for years and I didn’t know this history. Thank you for educating all of us. This hike and house will take on different meaning now.
Gorgeous pics! Thank you.
Thank you! We’ve been coming to St. John for many years but on a boat and being on the island only during the day. Staying on land for the first time next spring and can’t wait to explore the island; this hike looks beautiful.
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Amazing info!! Thanks Jenn