Most know the story of the Donner Party, a group of American pioneers who left for California in 1846 only to be delayed by mistakes and subsequently found themselves in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the harsh, snowy winter — many perished while some resorted to cannibalism to survive. In contrast, a few years earlier, the well-organized Stephans-Townsend-Murphy party, comprised of ten families and fifty-members in forty wagons, successfully made it to California through the Sierra Nevadas in 1844 and helped settle the region around San Jose (although their travels were not void of difficulty and terrifying experiences).
The Murphy family, with 23 members, made up the largest portion of the trailblazing pioneers. Martin Murphy, Sr., Diana's grandfather, moved West with hopes of finding religious, economic, and political freedoms.
The party of emigrants, including the Murphy family, spread throughout California. Martin Murphy, who fled Ireland as a landless peasant, ended up owning Spanish land grants in the Santa Clara Valley almost as wide as the whole County of Wexford in Ireland whence he fled in search of economic, political and religious freedom, and enough to eat.
Meanwhile, Hiram and Diana and their only daughter Diane lived in San Francisco, but they used the now-historic Villa Mira Monte house as their country retreat where they entertained many friends. In fact, the town acquired its name because train conductors made special stops near the home and exclaimed, Morgan Hill's prior to letting the guests disembark.
The Hills sold the house in 1913 and it functioned as a private home, a funeral parlor, and an antique shop until 1992. The Morgan Hill Historical Society took ownership of Villa Mira Monte in 1992 with the provision that they renovate the house and open it to the publi.. After five years of construction, the house reopened in 1998 to tourists, history enthusiasts, event attendees and more. Today, the Morgan Hill House Museum hosts events, weddings, holiday celebrations, wine tastings, Mad Hatter parties and hosts historical chats.