In 1968, an old farm house on Kephart Lane was slated for demolition to make way for a new subdivision. As the crews worked to tear down the house, they were surprised to discover that a log cabin existed under its modern exterior. The two-story wooden structure was built approximately 1829 to 1830 by Francis Murdock, the area’s first lawyer and an early settler of Berrien County. While Francis eventually moved to Missouri and gained fame as one of Dred Scott’s lawyers, the house remained occupied by members of his family for a number of years. The first recorded while birth and white death in Berrien Springs occurred in the home.
It is believed that the precursor to the building’s modern exterior was added around the time of the Civil War, with portions of the back wall removed for a new extension. As families came and went, the house continued to be modernize, but the cabin remained hidden to all. In fact, upon its discovery, several individuals who had lived in the home expressed shock and surprise that the cabin had been there all along.
Originally the Historical Commission had hoped to leave the house in its location and build a park around it. However, that did not come to fruition and for five years the house stood on Kephart Lane, the victim of time, weather, and vandals. Eventually, recognition from the state pushed the preservation plans forward. Funds from various donors and municipalities made the move possible and it made front page news back in the day.
The building was moved in tact to the Courthouse Square in 1973 and area experts created new wall sections to match the original in order to close the holes. At first glance, it’s hard to tell that anything was cut out from the wall, proving that great skill can make anything seamless. In the early years, the house was outfitted in period artifacts, but currently the home is semi-empty when not in use by re-enactors and the upper level is off limits to the public until repairs can be made.
By the early 1990s, a historically accurate garden was added by the Michigan State University extension master gardener group as part of their course completion project. Plans to renovate and expand the garden in addition to updating the cabin is on the books for the Historical Association.
The Murdock Cabin is one of the oldest surviving structures in the state of Michigan, with only a handful of other buildings surpassing it in age. There is debate if it is the oldest two-story log cabin as the Davenport House on Mackinac Island, which is older, is believed to be a two-story structure. However, with the modernization of the Davenport House, Murdock remains the oldest cabin in its original state.