Murphy House Lot and Murphy Memorial Garden

Isaac Murphy was the first person to win three Kentucky Derbies and the first to be nominated to the National Museum Hall of Racing’s Hall of Fame.

In the late nineteenth century, Isaac Murphy was the highest-paid jockey in the United States and had the best win percentage in Thoroughbred-racing history. He was a frequent rider of magnate James Ben Ali Haggin’s horses, including the famed Salvator. Murphy’s record for winning the Kentucky Derby on three occasions stood until 1948.

Murphy’s success as a jockey enabled him and his wife, Lucy Carr, to purchase a large 10-room home on the corner of Nelson Ave and Third Street for $10,000 in 1887. This “fine suburban residence” — a 2-story brick house that no longer stands — was built in the mid-1850s. With a roof observatory that offered a view of the nearby Kentucky Association racetrack, it became a center for social events under the Murphys’ proprietorship. Their immediate social circle included Black trainers such as Edward Dudley Brown and Abraham Perry, who lived nearby.

When Murphy died in 1896 at the age of 35 from heart failure, his fame in racing history warranted coverage of his funeral in The New York Times (11-18-1896). As reported in The Times, his service took place in the house on East Third Street and his funeral procession was one of the longest in Lexington.

From the 1890s onwards, African-American jockeys experienced burgeoning racial prejudice on the tracks and in the press. This attitude was reflected in court rulings such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which notoriously legalized “separate but equal” segregation.

After Murphy’s death, Lucy struggled to pay back a $5,500 loan from entrepeneur Gus Luigart and lost the house following a contentious lawsuit. It was sold at auction in 1900 and demolished after 1934; no known photographs of it exist. Archaeological investigations, however, have revealed the home’s foundation, a section of which has been preserved and incorporated into the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue. The park is linked by the Legacy Trail to the Kentucky Horse Park, where Murphy is formally memorialized.



577 East Third Street, Lexington, Kentucky