By Liam Kishinevsky
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Tis the season of fall leaves, long sleeves, pumpkin spice posts, and ghastly ghosts! So in celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, we thought we would share with you a local ghost legend that Liam Kishinevsky, one of our amazing Museum Volunteers, came across while working in the Archives! Don’t worry, it isn’t scary, however, it is filled with local history that may send you on a wild treasure hunt!
Liam has kindly written a summary of the legend of Murdoff’s Tavern below. You can find the full story in the Archives in a March 1990 article for the Lennox and Addington Historical Society, written by Wesley M. Alkenbrack and titled “Murdoff’s Tavern: At the western edge of the Great Marsh on the Napanee River” (A2008.027.06).
The Legend of Murdoff's Tavern
Murdoff’s tavern had long been subject to mystery and conjecture in the county, as even the name of the family was left ambiguous, with some calling him “Murdock.” Alkenbrack gives his explanation to this as being the result of rural people in the tavern era having a carelessness by turning names into something more easily familiar to their own tongue. This account by Alkenbrack thus seeks to rectify such discrepancies. The tavern’s years of operation cannot be solidified with absolute surety, but nonetheless, it is a vivid component of the river’s history.
Establishing a Tavern
Three Miles from the town, along Deseronto Road, lies the Daly Farm. The Daly family came from Prince Edward County in 1857, already an active business tycoon in the blending of teas. They continued business of this Napaneean farm, establishing the Daly Tea Company in 1876. The registry office shows the purchase of Lot E1/2 Con. 1 Township of Richmond from an R.R. (Robert Russell) Murdoff on September 2nd, 1857; a sale of 100 acres for a total of $1100. This is corroborated by a letter Alkenbrack received from Archie Wilson.
Murdoff erected his tavern on the riverbank of his farm, with the first record of this coming from December 9th, 1846, when he purchased 100 acres from E. Dewitt for $500. The elevation in price Daly paid for seems to be the result of new buildings erected on the property. Murdoff had recorded possession of the farm from 1846-1863, so the tavern must have been built sometime during this 17-year period. There was a double purpose to this building, combining a dwelling with a tavern to take advantage of the growing activity along the river. Two buildings became synonymous with the Daly farmstead in the early 20th Century: a red-brick dwelling, most likely built during the barley rush; and a farmhouse built well-before, and associated with Murdoff. This latter building had a superior frame dwelling to those made during this era of construction.
A Busy Tavern
Being located near the Big Bend, where the confluence of waters flows into the Bay of Quinte, schooners would have lined the north shore. Ships like the Lyman Davis would run well into the 1800s, and ships would often run aground on sandbars like those off of McKendry’s island, needing to be kegged off at high tide, or freed by Pyke Salvage from Kingston. On the cleared and stone-buttressed banks of the shore lay the tavern. It seems a removed and distant place for travelers seeking a tavern, though it was the river traffic that saw Murdoff’s tavern plans put to fruition. The river was busy at this time, moving much of the local commerce. Napanee, Deseronto, and Picton all relied on the waters of the bay, as roads and railroads left much to be desired for efficient transportation. This only increased with the ‘barley rush,’ as ships would travel across Lake Ontario to offload stores at American ports. A grain wharf lay only a few hundred yards west of Murdoff’s Tavern, resting at a depth that allowed grain schooners to rest alongside and load barley, connected to further wagon trains that formed along the roadways. This traffic provided ample customer bases for Murdoff’s Tavern, probably boasting a small landing strip for docking vessels as a result.
Murdoff’s closest competition was Kimmerly’s Tavern, less than a mile away at the intersection of Deseronto Road and Barker’s Side Road. The busiest times for Murdoff were in the late spring and early summer when the river drivers worked the vast and continuous log businesses flowing down the Napanee River, past the Tavern, to the Rathburn’s great mills. Whiskey was also flowing greatly during the spring/summer log drives. Murdoff’s local legend grew, especially the idea that his fortune was physically close to him as some form of gold, amassed and hoarded. This legend of hoarded gold may have been due to his closed and frivolous nature, or perhaps due to community imagination, however, both during his lifetime and after his demise, the call of gold still lingered in the imaginations of the community.
Local legend grows
In Murdoff’s time, banks were not trusted by rural folk, and gold was a measure against hardships and times of crisis, thus leading to many hoarding it as a hedge of sorts. Safe-keeping was a preoccupation of thrifty people, dealing in exaggerated fears regarding momentous events beyond their borders. The American Civil War saw the northern states dangerously aroused with arms and victories, causing concern amongst Canadian communities along the frontier. Memories of 1812 still lingered, and with the US’ internal quarrels resolved, might they not turn to another frontier to conduct wars with their ‘Grand Army?’ The sporadic Fenian Raids that occurred after the Civil War only heightened concerns, to such an extent that locals were called up as volunteers for defence. It was said that at this time, Murdoff buried his gold for safe-keeping, and the legend that he forgot his hiding place grew evermore prominent. He was often seen pacing back and forth across the fields of his and the Oliver farm, as if searching for something.
The neighboring Oliver Farm had once encompassed all four farms between Oliver and Baker Sideroads as a Crown grant to the original Oliver. Harry Oliver had a family interest in the tavern story, as his grandmother (Lucy Woodcock), worked as a servant at the tavern when she was a young girl. It was here that she met Fredrick Oliver, the man she would marry. Harry, now an aged man and one of the few remaining authorities on the tavern, sat down with Alkenbrack for a conversation on January 21st, 1961. He reported his grandmother’s musings of how Murdoff would empty his pockets of gold at the end of the day, putting them in a strongbox in his bedroom. Occasionally, she would find a five or ten gold piece on the floor and return it to Murdoff (she thought that he was testing her honesty). Harry stated that as a young boy, he worked the fields and saw freshly-dug soil by the line fence between the two farms. Puzzled by this, he went to tell his uncle what he’d found. The two went down to the field, and upon seeing the dug up pile, his uncle exclaimed that someone was digging for Murdoff’s gold. Harry returned to the house for a shovel and began digging, but to no avail. Harry reported that digging occurred on the property for a few years by unknown persons. So the hunt lingered, with the story adding that Murdoff’s ghost joined in the hunt as well, pacing the fields at night, mournfully longing for his treasure.
Ghost Stories from the Historical Napanee Express
Browsing through historical local newspapers in the Archives always proves entertaining. The Archivist Heather came across some ghost stories in historical issues of the Napanee Express that we think are share-worthy! (Some are even comical!) Thanks to all the work done by the Archives, you can access these stories, along with others in the Napanee Express, online from home!
So here are a few of our favourites for you to delve into…perhaps, late at night along with your ghost friends!
- “Green’s Ghost”, The Napanee Express, October 20th, 1899, pages 10 and 12
- “Because of a Ghost”, The Napanee Express, November 21st, 1902, page 26
- “Ghost of an English Manor”, The Napanee Express, December 29th, 1905, page 8