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Life-long Democrat, Judge Murphy was always faithful to party’s cause

This photo of Cornelius J. Murphy was published in the July 1, 1914 edition of the Palmyra Spectator. Murphy served two terms, representing the eastern district of Marion County, Mo., in the county commission.


Cornelius James Murphy, after serving two terms as county judge (commissioner) of the Eastern part of Marion County, lost his bid for re-election in November 1914 to Evan T. Cameron, a Republican, by less than a half dozen votes.

The Palmyra Spectator cried foul upon learning of the election results, as people came forward complaining that their votes hadn’t been counted. There were claims that absentee ballots hadn’t been tallied, and some railroaders at Old Monroe maintained that that their votes for Judge Murphy hadn’t been turned in to the election officials. There were also hints that some felons may have voted illegally.

When the dust settled, however, Evan T. Cameron was sworn in as county judge, and Judge Murphy returned home to Hannibal, where he had lived since his birth, just a few years prior the onset of the Civil War.

Cornelius J. Murphy was a much-respected Hannibal businessman who had always taken a prominent role (behind the scenes) in Democratic politics. When he first sought office in 1910 at the age of 50, he maintained that his only interest was to make sure that his party was represented on the primary ballot.

Priority: Good roads

Once elected in the November 1910 general election, Judge Murphy readily adapted to the job of representing his constituents.

Then, as now, the priority of the commission was to provide good roads throughout the county. The primary push in January 1912, when Judge Murphy was serving with George W. Pine and Lafayette Hutcherson, was the construction of a quality road between Palmyra and Philadelphia. The three judges announced the appropriation of $10,000 toward building a stretch of first-class hard road in some direction in the western part of the county. The Palmyra Spectator pushed for a road to Philadelphia, asking residents for their support. “The road can be started at once if the proper effort is put forth,” the newspaper challenged in its Jan. 31, 1912 edition.

Grocery man

For a number of years, (from as early as 1893) Cornelius Murphy partnered with Clarence J. Lampton to operate a grocery and mercantile business on what is now South Main Street. At the time of their business association, the street was called Third, South Hannibal. The numeral address was 301, later changed to 701. The two-story building was on the southwest corner of Main and Washington, two blocks to the north of the Burlington shops.

Cornelius J. Murphy married Annie M. Smith on Nov. 20, 1895, in Hannibal. At the time of the 1900 census, the Murphys were living above the store, and had three young sons, John, 3; Joseph, 2; and Cornelius J. Murphy Jr., 9 months. Also living there were Annie’s father, James Smith, 71; her brother, Phillip Smith, age 44 and working as a saloon keeper, and Katie Smith, age 31.

In the 1880 census, Daniel and Alice Brady Murphy, Cornelius’ parents, lived at the corner of Walnut and what is now Missouri highway 79. More specifically, their address was 500 or 501 Walnut street.

Cornelius Murphy ultimately moved his family to the same house, and would live out his life at this address.

Hannibal pioneer

Daniel Murphy – father of Cornelius J. Murphy – was considered a Hannibal pioneer. Born in Ireland, he was a stonemason by trade and married Alice Brady on Sept. 26, 1853 in Marion County, Mo. Their children included Daniel B. Murphy, Cornelius J. Murphy, Katie L. Murphy, Mary Murphy, John Patrick Murphy, Timothy Murphy and Robert E. Murphy.

Daughter Mary was married to Jake Beckley, professional baseball player. She died in 1891.

Daniel Murphy Sr., died Nov. 5, 1901 in Hannibal. His death notice in the Quincy Daily Journal noted that he had served as Hannibal’s street commissioner for several years. His wife died at her home on Sept. 18, 1912. She was 75.

Double tragedy

In March 1919, Judge Murphy suffered two losses on the same day.

His wife, hospitalized with pneumonia, died March 13, 1919, at the age of 59. Four hours later, their son, Cornelius J. (Neil) Murphy Jr., died of the same illness. He was 19 years old, and had worked as a clerk in his father’s grocery store before falling ill.

New store

The Quincy Daily Herald announced in its April 9, 1922 edition, that Joe Murphy, son of Cornelius J. Murphy, was opening a store formerly owned and operated under the name of Murphy and Lampton, 701 S. Main, Hannibal.

At the time, Joe’s father was undergoing cancer treatments, submitting to several surgeries. In late June 1922, the Palmyra Spectator reported that a portion of Cornelius Murphy’s tongue had been surgically removed. After a visit to see his friends in Palmyra, the newspaper reported, “It is necessary for him to breathe through a silver tube inserted low down in his throat. He is unable to speak, but is cheerful in his deep affliction, and seemed delighted to see his Palmyra friends.”

He died the following November and was buried beside his wife and son in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Hannibal.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

This early Hannibal photo, taken from the vantage point of Lovers Leap, shows South Main Street, looking north. The arrow points to the building that served as the Murphy & Lampton grocery and mercantile store for some 27 years. It was operated by Cornelius J. Murphy and Clarence J. Lampton. Photo: Steve Chou collection

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