History of Johnson, Lamoille County, Vermont

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JOHNSON lies in the central part of the county, in latitude 44 40′, and longitude 4° 19′, bounded northeasterly by Belvidere and Eden, south easterly by Hyde Park and Morristown, southwesterly by Morristown and Cambridge, and northwesterly by Waterville and Cambridge, containing an area of little over 23,040 acres. The tale of its charter breathes somewhat of romance. As early as 1780, a Mr. Brown, an early settler in Jericho, Vt., secured a grant of the township. He caused the outlines to be run, and commenced the allotment in the eastern part of the town, and gave to it the name of Brownville, or Brownington. In the meantime the northern hive of Indians residing upon the Canadian frontier, had begun to pour in upon the wilderness territory of northern Vermont, destroying the property of, and carrying away many of the luckless settlers into wretched captivity. Mr. Brown and his family were numbered among these unhappy ones. In 1774, he had made the difficult journey to Jericho, from Massachusetts. Here he and his family, consisting of a wife, a daughter, and two sons, had made such improvements on their lands, as to be able to raise most of the necessaries of life, and were looking forward to days of still greater plenty, but in the autumn of 1780, the year this town was granted to him, the family was surprised and made prisoners of by a party of Indians, who, after securing their prisoners, killed the cattle, sheep and hogs belonging to them, set fire to their house, and started with them for Montreal. The prisoners suffered much on their journey, from fatigue and hunger, their principal food being raw bear’s meat. On arriving at St. Johns they were turned over to the British officers, and their captors received the bounty due them-eighteen dollars per head for their prisoners.’ For three years they were retained as nominal prisoners, though they were in reality slaves, being obliged to serve their exacting masters, and receiving in return nothing but insults and the poorest fare.

During the years of Mr. Brown’s captivity, the charter fees for his town grant remained unpaid, and his continued absence led to the belief that he was dead. So another grant of the territory was made to Samuel William Johnson and his associates, bearing date February 27, 1782. Upon the return of Mr. Brown, a dispute arose between him and Mr. Johnson, relative to the right of the township. This difficulty was, however, compromised, by a new grant being made to Mr. Brown, of the present town of Brownington, in Orleans Co. The charter verifying Mr. Johnson’s grant, however, was not obtained until January 2, 1792, issued by the governor, and bearing the name of the grantee, Johnson. Thus ended this unusual history of a town charter.

The surface of Johnson, especially in the western part, is quite uneven, though in the central and eastern portions there are many acres of fine, level farming land. The northwestern part of the town extends up upon a spur of the Green Mountains, while Round mountain lies in the western part, and Sterling mountain in the southwestern part, making a continuous chain from north to south. Between Round mountain and Sterling mountain lies the Lamoille valley, one of the most fertile and beautiful in the State. The Lamoille river enters the town in the southeastern part, and, running westerly about two miles, through a rich tract of intervale, falls over a ledge of rocks, about fifteen feet in height, into a basin below, making McDonnell’s Falls, so named in honor of one of the early settlers. Thence it runs northwesterly over a bed of rocks, about one hundred rods, narrowing its bounds and increasing its velocity, when it forms a whirlpool and sinks under a barrier of rocks, which extend across the river. The arch is of solid rock, about eight feet wide, and at low water is passed over by footmen with safety. Thus is reproduced in miniature the famous Natural Bridge of Virginia. The view of the river afforded at this point is extremely beautiful. For some distance above the river seems preparing for some unusual occurrence tiny caps of snow-white foam crest each hurrying ripple, bits of drift wood and fallen leaves are whirled in circling eddies, while here and there a projecting rock attempts to impede the current, only to be angrily covered with a cloud of spray. Finally, the waters, with a sullen roar, plunge into the maelstrom and disappear. Below the “bridge,” the scene is one of increased grandeur. The waters, with a last, triumphant struggle, cast off the granite fetters that have for a moment retarded their resistless course, and rising from a boiling caldron of fleecy foam, soon flow along again, a quiet, tranquil river, which, about 150 rods below, receives the waters of North Branch, and bending its course westerly, leaves the township near the southwest corner. Numerous other streams are found throughout the town, many of which afford good millsites, and unite with other beauties of nature in forming most attractive scenery. The timber of the township is hemlock, spruce, and trees of the hard-wood varieties. The soil is a dark or yellow loam, mixed with a light sand, is easily tilled and very productive. The alluvial flats along the Lamoille are extensive, but back from the river the lands are, in some parts, rather stony.

The geological structure of the town is composed principally of rocks of gneiss and talcose schist formation. The former are found in the western, the latter in the eastern portions of the township. Small beds of steatite and saccharoid azoic limestone have also been discovered, and some beds of clay suitable for the manufacture of brick, etc. Gold is also said to exist in alluvium in minute quantities. No other minerals of importance have been discovered.

In 1880, Johnson had a population of r,495, and in 1882, was divided into fourteen school districts and contained eleven common schools, employing five male and twenty-five female teachers, to whom was paid an aggregate salary of $1,413.13. There were 370 pupils attending common school, while the entire cost of the schools for the year, ending October 31st, was $1,606.80, with J. A. Pierce, superintendent.

The St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain railroad crosses the southern part of the town, with a station at Johnson.

JOHNSON, a post village and station on the St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain railroad, is beautifully located a little south of the central part of the town, at the intersection of the Gihon with the Lamoille river. Among its several manufactories are saw-mills, woolen-mill, butter-tub and starch factory. It also contains three churches, (Congregational, Methodist Episcopal, and Baptist,) State normal school, four stores, one hotel, two harness shops, and about ninety dwellings.

The State Normal School. As early as 1836, the legislature incorporated the Lamoille County Grammar School, though the school had been established about six years previous, under Dr. Carpenter. During the years that followed, the school experienced the usual changes of government, and struggled through the varying fortunes common to institutions of the kind, until February, 1867, when it was changed to the State Normal School, with Rev. H. D. Hodge, president, Samuel Belding, vice-president, S. S. Pike, treasurer, Dea. H. W. Robinson, secretary, and twenty trustees. While under the control of L. O. Stevens the building was repaired, and, in 1866, was thoroughly rebuilt, so that it is now more than double its original size. The normal school began its career with about fifty students, under the principalship of S. H. Pearl, who continued in that capacity until 1871. He was succeeded by C. D. Mead, who remained only a little over a year. From that time, 1872, until 1875, S. H. Perrigo filled the position, and was succeeded by William C. Crippen, who had charge of the school until 1881, when the services of Edward Conant, then principal of the normal school at Randolph, and who was also State superintendent 0f schools’ from 1874 until 1880, were secured. Mr. Conant’s long experience in school work enabled him to at once put the school on a firm footing. He has thus far met with good success, and all indications point to still greater success in the future. Twenty-eight pupils were graduated during the year, ending in January, 1882.

Barnum L. Austin’s cabinet shop, located at the village, was built for the purpose for which it is now used, previous to the year 1850. In 1870, it was taken by Mr. Austin, who has continued business there since.

O. & A. H. Buck have control of 2,000 acres of wood land, which they are rapidly clearing and converting the timber into lumber. They own a steam mill that has the capacity for cutting 2,000,000 feet of lumber annually, and a mill operated by water-power that will cut the same amount of lumber, and 500,000 feet of clapboards and 500,000 shingles, and they also lease a mill in Granby, Essex county, having the capacity for cutting 3,000,000 feet 0f lumber per annum.

O. W. Stearns & Son’s butter-tub and water-tubing factory, located on the Gihon river, was built by the present proprietors, in 1894, who commenced business in a small way, employing only six workmen. In 1880, they instituted extensive repairs, and placed in operation considerable new machinery, increasing their facilities so that they now employ eighteen men. In 1881, they manufactured 90,000 spruce butter-tubs and sap-buckets, and about 4,000 rods of spruce and pine water-tubing.

William McLenathan’s grist and carding-mill was built about 1842, by Nathaniel Stearns, for a rake factory and grist-mill, and came into the present proprietor’s hands in 1867. Mr. McLenathan has made extensive repairs and now does a large business.

L. H. Parkhurst’s saw-mill, located on road 7, was built in 1877. Mr. Parkhurst employs six men and manufactures 500,000 feet of lumber and 180,000 feet of clapboards per year.

I. L. Pearl’s woolen-mill, located on the Gihon river, was established about 1845, by Andrew and Stephen Dow, who continued in business until 1855, when Daniel M. Dow purchased Andrew’s interest, continuing the business under the firm name of S. & D. M. Dow for about two years, or until the death of Daniel. In 1857, the present proprietor, Isaac L. Pearl, purchased a share of the property, continuing the business as Dow & Pearl until 1865. Mr. Dow then sold his interest to Orange Buck, who remained in the firm until 1870, when Mr. Pearl assumed entire control of the concern. On April x 1, 1871, the entire mills were destroyed by fire, nothing being saved. Mr. Pearl immediately began to rebuild, and soon had the present factory erected. Mr. Pearl now empolys twelve workmen, and consumes about 40,000 pounds of wool per year, in the manufacture of heavy goods and yarns.

Horace H Partlow’s carriage and gun shop, located at the village, was established in 1866. The building is one of the oldest in the town.

R. B. Bradley’s carriage and machine shop, located on Pearl street, was established in 1880, where Mr. Bradley does a profitable business. .

The first settlement in Johnson was commenced in 1784, by Samuel Eaton, from New Hampshire. During the French war, before the reduction of Canada by the British, Mr. Eaton passed through this part of the country and down the river Lamoille to Lake Champlain, on a scouting expedition. At the commencement of the revolution he enlisted in the American army under Col. Beedle, and frequently passed through this township, while scouting between the Connecticut river and Lake Champlain, and several times encamped on the same plot which he afterwards occupied as a farm a beautiful bow of alluvial flats on the right bank of the Lamoille, in the western part of the town. Like many other settlers he had many difficulties to encounter. In indigent circumstances and with a numerous family, he loaded his little all upon an old horse, and set out in search of that favorite spot which he had selected in his more youthful days. To accomplish this he had to travel nearly seventy miles through the wilderness, guided only by the trees which had been marked by the scouts, and opening a path as he passed along. For some time after he arrived here, Mr. Eaton depended entirely upon hunting and fishing for the support of himself and a large family. Better days soon smiled upon him, however, and he lived to a good old age, much respected, and in his latter years received a pension from the ‘government for Revolutionary services.

The year following Mr. Eaton’s settlement, a number from the same vicinity in New Hampshire made beginnings in the town, two by the name of McConnell, one of whom, Jonathan, located near the confluence of the North Branch with the Lamoille. He soon after erected a saw and grist-mill, about which has subsequently grown the present village. Among these early settlers were the Millers, Rogers, Mills, Simons, Smiths, Greggs, etc. From 1790, to s800, a second class of settlers arrived, mostly from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. From New Boston and Amherst, N. H., there were families of Dodges, Balches, Wilsons, Ellingwoods, Reddingtons, Primes, and others. From Belchertown and other places of Massachusetts came the Ferrys, Clarks, Wheelers, Atwells, and Johnny Wier. The latter, from Boston, was a sea-faring man, and developed into quite a character. He possessed no education and no money, but by close economy he paid for his farm, and subsequently engaged in mercantile pursuits, amassing quite a snug property. Between 1801, and 1805, another class of settlers arrived, from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other towns in Vermont, among whom were the Griswolds, Burnhams, Morgans, Obers, Perkins, Patchs, Waterses, Nicholses, and Watermans.

The allotment of the town was made in 1788 or ’89. The lots were designed to contain 900 acres to each proprietor, besides an allowance of five percent for roads. The survey, however, was very incorrect, some lots containing a much larger number of acres than others adjoining them, and zigzag lines were found to run from corner to corner of lots, enlarging one by diminishing another, which caused much litigation among the early settlers, but in all cases the courts established the lines and corners where they could be proven to have been run and marked.

The town was organized, and the first town meeting held March 4, 1789, when Jonathan McConnell, was elected town clerk , Jonathan McConnell, Ensign Samuel Eaton, and Jeremiah McDaniel, selectmen, Nehemiah Barrett, constable , George Gregg, Samuel Miller, and Thomas McConnell, assessors, Jonathan McConnell, treasurer, and Ensign Jeremiah McDaniel, collector. The first justice of the peace was Jonathan McConnell, in 1790. The first representative was Noah Smith, in 1789. The first deeds but on file, though not recorded, were in June, 1790. The first deed recorded, was one from Thomas McConnell to John Sanders, October 15, 1790. The first record of votes cast for governor was in 1807, the whole number then being thirty-nine. The first child born in the town was a son of Aaron Smith, who was named Johnson Smith, in reference to his being the first birth in the township. The mother, Mrs. Smith, when her child was but two or three months old, in view of the approaching winter and the scarcity of provisions, started with her child, accompanied by her husband to Onion river, and thence, on foot and alone, traveled to Bennington to spend the winter with her friends. The first death was that of a Mr. Fullington, who was on his way from New Hampshire to Fairfax, and while passing the Lamoille, in what is now Morristown, at an old hunters’ or Indians’ camping place, he discovered some English turnips well grown and very inviting, of which he partook freely upon an empty stomach, which produced a violent attack of bilious colic, of which he died the night following, at the dwelling of Thomas McConnell, and was buried in a trough dug from a basswood log, upon the farm now owned by Merritt C. Foot. The next ‘death was that of a young man by the name of Smith, who had but a short time previous accompanied his brother and family into town, and was at work, or from some cause, at the mills which McConnell was building, and accidently went over the dam or falls and was drowned. The first mail was carried through the town in 1802-’03, by John Skeeles, of Peacham, on horseback, to St. Albans and back once a week, and Arunah Waterman, Jr., was the first postmaster. The first settled minister was Elder Joel P. Hayford, a young man, who very generously surrendered his claim to the right of land granted to the first settled minister, to the selectmen of the town, to be leased by them in perpetuity, the avails of which to be applied to the support of the gospel for all coming time.

During the late war Johnson furnished 140 enlisted men, twenty-seven of whom were killed in action or died of wounds received or diseases contracted while in the service. Bounties were voted by the town as follows : September 6, 1862, ” to pay nine men $50.00 each.” The men were raised, paid, and sent to the war. December i g, 1863, ” to pay $300.00 each to ten men.” They also were hired, paid, and sent. September 19, 1864, “to pay the heirs of George E. Whitfield $50.00, and pay E. D. Carter $50.00;” which was accordingly done. January 1q, 1865, “voted to raise a tax of 100 cents on the dollar of the grand list, to defray the expense of raising men for the war;” and “voted to leave the raising of men to fill our quota to the selectmen to manage at their discretion.” Nothing was done under this latter vote, as the war closed soon after.

The Baptist church, located at Johnson village, was organized Nov. 7, 1808, with fourteen members, Rev. David Boynton being the first pastor. The first church building was erected in 1832, and gave place to the present structure in 1855. The society is in a prosperous condition, with Rev. J. A. Pierce, pastor.

The Congregational church of Johnson, located at Johnson village, was organized September 20, 1817, by Isaac Smith, Joseph Dodge, Samuel Waters, Sarah Dodge, Mary Farnham, Sally Stickney, and Mary Waters. Rev. John Scott was the first pastor. The first church building was erected in 1832, and was replaced by the present wood structure in 1851. This building cost $3,000.00, will seat 280 persons, and is now valued, including grounds and parsonage, at $5,500.00. The society has 100 members, is free from debt, and supports a good Sabbath school, with Rev. Azro A. Smith, pastor.

The Methodist Episcopal church, located at Johnson village, has eighty-three members, with Rev John S. Tupper, pastor. The church building will seat 250 persons and is valued at $2,500.00.



MLA Source Citation:

Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and business directory of Lamoille and Orleans Counties, Vt., for 1883-1884. Hamilton Child. 1887. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 28 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/vermont/history-of-johnson-lamoille-county-vermont.htm - Last updated on May 22nd, 2011


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