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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

James E. Murdoch Was Celebrated Actor And Public Reader

Dallas Bogan on 28 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 263
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Murdoch is located on Route 48 in the southern portion of Warren County, less than two miles from Maineville and about two miles northeast of Loveland. It was never considered a village, just a group of houses. It was founded and named after James E. Murdoch, a most celebrated actor and public reader.
Murdoch called his hamlet "Hamstead Grove," but with the establishment of a post office it was renamed Murdoch. (The name is often mistakenly spelled Murdock.)
Murdoch acquired a farm here in 1851 and planned to make a living at his new vocation. He lived in a neat frame cottage very well landscaped. Near the cottage was a log cabin, which served as his study that he called his den.
He was at this time forty years of age and had reached his popularity as an entertainer ten years previous. Country life was favored over city life by Mr. Murdoch, thinking his sons should be raised on a farm. He had no formal training for this new occupation, which produced many failures over the years. His spirit was never mentally broken. He achieved through perseverance what many thought a great success.
He was instrumental in making a turnpike out of the dirt road leading from his farm to Loveland; introduced an improved breed of cattle from Kentucky; and mildly dedicated himself to grape culture. However, the actor had to support the farmer.
Murdoch, as an inhabitant of Philadelphia at an early age, did nothing to prepare himself for farm life. He was the son of a bookbinder and worked as a boy at his father's trade. As a youth he displayed a talent as a public reader and speaker. Consequently, he became a member of a debating society and an amateur dramatic organization. His later experiences in the theatrical field were achieved as an actor, stage manager, teacher of elocution in Boston, and lecturer on Shakespeare.
Being involved in the agricultural profession did little to alter his theatrical career. Soon after removing to his farm he traveled to California and fulfilled a successful theatrical engagement. In 1856, he made a trip to Europe and performed successfully in London and Liverpool.
His readings were generally accepted by Warren Countians, although drama presentations had virtually disappeared a generation before, especially in the rural areas. His background in his readings had usually been before large audiences on opera stages well lighted with gas, but he was just as much at home with the rural gatherings.
A little village, a country church, all occasions seemed very pleasing to Mr. Murdoch. If for a good cause, no payment was accepted. Possibly his first reading in the County was in the summer of 1852, the year after he moved to his farm. The Maineville Academy hosted the first teacher's Institute of Warren County and he was asked to read at one of the five evening sessions. This was the first time the County schoolteachers and residents had the privilege of hearing him and learn what the finely trained voice of Mr. Murdoch was capable of.
He performed at many different locations in Lebanon which included Washington Hall, the Baptist Church, and the Opera House. His longest selection was the Trial Scene, Act IV of the Merchant of Venice, which he often placed on his program.
Murdoch scheduled a series of vocal lessons at his farm home beginning July 9, 1862. He had a number of circulars printed and the demand was so great that he had a second edition printed. He was met with disappointment; on the first day less than a dozen were present. The class included four preachers, two teachers of elocution, a law student and some young students. Every member of the class was well satisfied with the results achieved.
The Civil War was in full progress at this time. Murdoch was purely devoted to the Union effort. His speaking abilities lent to his patriotic feelings. He gave readings in all the larger cities of the North. He read to the soldiers in camp and in the hospitals. He raised money for the sanitary commissions, soldiers and societies. One writer estimates that he read to more than 250,000 soldiers and citizens. His many readings were of a patriotic nature, which were designed to boost the morale of the soldiers.
The Bethel Church in Murdoch was badly in need of a new building. Mr. Murdoch unselfishly offered to raise one-half of the cost of a new building if the members would do likewise. The funds were raised and the new church was dedicated in November 1872, with Rev. Dr. J. G. Monfort preaching the dedication service. (Much of the money was raised by Mr. Murdochs' readings on Sunday evenings in different churches.) The cost of the building was a little more than $4,500. Not being a man of wealth, his sacrifice was fulfilling to the members. Mr. Murdoch was not of the faith of the Bethel Church, which was Presbyterian; his religious views were of the Unitarian faith, which makes his gesture that much more admirable.

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