Editor’s note: The Urbana Black Heritage Festival will be held at Barbara Howell Park on June 18 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 213 E. Market St. This article is one in a series of Heritage stories leading up to the festival.
One hundred years ago, on February 14, 1922, Walter Murphy was born in Kentucky. It was there he would begin his illustrious and famous career as a world class horse trainer.
Walter first began working with horses as a boy alongside his father, James. As he grew older, Walter began working with some of the largest horse farms in the state before relocating with his young family to Delaware, Ohio in 1949. There he worked as a trainer for the Emerald Grove Farm until 1965 when the Murphy family relocated to Urbana. At that time, Murphy’s horse training work became associated with Mr. and Mrs. Elliot Bonnie and the Glen Grove Farm on the extreme north end of Urbana (just north of the Grimes Estate) where the massive barns remain.
By 1973, Walter Murphy had formed Murphy Training Stables in Urbana. Over the years, he would be joined by his sons, grandson, and nephews. Among their clients was prize fighter, George Foreman.
Walter Murphy’s horses were no longer trained by “unseen hands.” His work in the field began to be recognized. He was named Ohio Horseman of the Year by his peers in 1983 and 1995. In 1997, he broke the color barrier and was honored as the first African American trainer inducted into the National Saddlebred Hall of Fame.
Walter Murphy had over 40 World Championship show horses to his credit before his death in 2000. He was married to Margaret Riley in 1943. She would pass away in 2008. The Murphy horse training legacy continues through Walter and Margaret’s son Bob in Urbana. The Murphy family home was an early homestead that dates to the earliest days of Urbana and was occupied by the family for over 40 years.
Watch this video to learn more about Walter Murphy: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=193663151728635 .