When she died in 1985, Jane Murray Beck left a bequest of $20,000 to UUCAS for maintenance of the Sheshequin meeting house. Over the years, we have used the “Murray Memorial Fund,” as the bequest was named, to pay for painting and other repairs to the building.
According to Jane Beck’s will, the bequest was given “in memory of [her] Murray ancestors and their descendants.” Jane’s Murray ancestry extended back to the beginnings of UUCAS: the Rev. Noah Murray, the first Universalist preacher in Bradford county, was her great-great-great-grandfather.
Of Noah Murray’s seven children, only his son Abner (1773-1839) remained in Bradford county as an adult. Abner lived on the family homestead, which was on present-day Rt. 199, on the west side of the Chemung River, near where the Valley Storage Mall and flea market grounds are today.
In 1821 Abner’s son Harris Murray (1800-1877) purchased farmland in what is now South Waverly and built a stone house there. That house – now 398 Pennsylvania Ave. – is still standing and used as a home. Harris Murray was a member of the Athens Universalist Society in 1854.
Harris Murray’s son John Harris Murray (1826-1901) inherited the homestead and farmed it until his death.
John Harris Murray’s son, John Harris Murray – who as an adult was known as “John Harris Murray Sr.” – was born in the stone house on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1867. As a young man, he worked for the railroad for a few years. Then in 1890 he and a partner started a coal business on his father’s property. He delivered coal and wood to his customers by horse and wagon. In 1900 Murray became sole owner of the company, and in 1922 his son John Harris Murray Jr. (1901-1961) became a partner in the business. The J. H. Murray company is still in business in Sayre, now selling heating oil. The coal shed is still standing on Pennsylvania Ave. in South Waverly, across from Harris Murray’s stone house.
In addition to running his coal business for over fifty years, John Harris Murray Sr. was very active in the community. He was a county commissioner for several years and a president of the Athens Rotary club. He was on the board of the Farmers National Bank, Robert Packer Hospital, Spalding Memorial Library, and Tioga Point Museum.
John Harris Murray Sr. was a lifelong member of the Waverly Presbyterian church. He died in 1954.
Jane Murray was the youngest of three children of John Harris Murray Sr. and his wife Carolyn Johnson. She was born in 1908 in South Waverly, probably in the family home. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1930 and served in the WAC during World War II.
Jane married Dr. William C. Beck (1907-1994), a surgeon at the Guthrie Clinic and a fellow World War II veteran, in 1947. Jane was active in the Robert Packer Hospital Auxiliary and the local chapter of the Red Cross. She was also a volunteer at the hospital. The Becks lived in Sayre for the rest of their lives.
While Jane Murray Beck, a Presbyterian, was several generations removed from her nearest Universalist ancestors, she clearly valued their legacy. Her bequest has helped our congregation maintain our historic Sheshequin meeting house.