The 128-year-old Derby House has served as a private home, hospital, religious retreat and hotel. About the only constant over the years has been the sound of trains zooming past.
“You have to quit talking for a minute and take a breath,” said Garth Murphy after the blare of a train horn faded. “I call it ‘the pause that refreshes.’”
Murphy, who has lived at the Derby House for nearly four decades, offered rare tours on June 13 of the historical home, at 649 S. Vulcan Ave. It’s reportedly the oldest Encinitas house that’s been continuously lived in.
“I’m enjoying giving tours, because it’s been 39 years, and few people in the town have been in here,” Murphy said. Representatives from the Encinitas Historical Society and San Dieguito Heritage Museum persuaded him to show off the home after they did a walkthrough two months ago.
“It has a special place in Encinitas history and I thought that’s worth sharing,” he said.
The roots of the Derby House go back to 1883, when Edward Hammond and his family of 11 arrived in Encinitas, doubling the population in one fell swoop. Hammond, an English cabinetmaker, notably built the old schoolhouse that stands on the Pacific View property, the landmark Encinitas Hotel and, of course, the Derby House.
Amos Derby, a wealthy railroad man, initially lived there with his wife and daughters, giving the home its name. Later, the house changed hands a few times, even becoming a wartime hospital and hospice. And during horse-and-buggy
days, ranch hands gathered there with their families to wait for trains arriving at the nearby Encinitas train station. The ranch hands played poker to pass the time.
In an old photo of its time as a religious retreat, “THE HOME” is written in large letters on the roof, with “ETERNAL BROTHERHOOD” on a wall and “By Thy Faith Thy Strength Shall Be” at two of the side entrances.
During the early 1970s, the home was a 14-room flophouse where visitors could stay for $2 a night. Indeed, room numbers still hang on the doors. These days, fewer people come and go, though Murphy rents some of the rooms to well-known local surfers like Ryan Burch and Nicole Sokol.
Murphy’s family filled the rooms with eclectic antiques and folk art from world travels, like the African gourd and hand-carved xylophone. Or the Burmese magistrate chair and Indonesian shell storage boxes.
His family bought the condemned house in 1976 for about $85,000. Since then, they’ve repainted and restored, but were spared work because of the redwood house’s impeccable construction. Most of the features inside are original, like the china closet and fireplace.
“The house has survived not by the kindness of the elements or the care of its owners, but by being just really well made,” Murphy said.
Proceeds from the tours benefited the Encinitas Historical Society and San Dieguito Heritage Museum.
Tour-goer Pam Ciampi said it’s amazing to think how much history is in just one home in the middle of downtown Encinitas.
“I feel lucky to get to see it,” she said.
Resident Daniel Harris echoed her, adding it feels at once “historical and homey.”
Murphy, who has restored a number of homes over the years, said the Derby House’s special vibe can’t be found elsewhere.
“It’s a strangely calming house,” he said. “It’s a refuge, like a piece of the country in the city.”
While Murphy and his wife, Euva, love the house, they decided to put it up for sale, because it was becoming too much to care for. And they wanted to find a buyer while property values are strong.
The ideal buyer would not only have adequate funds, but also preserve the home’s history. Murphy said it could suit a large family, or even be a bed-and-breakfast. It’s permitted for both uses.
In the meantime, Murphy said it’s likely at least one more day of tours will be held there this summer.
“People want a chance to see a piece of local history.”