PIQUA — More than 250 people gathered for the rededication of the family home of John and Rachel Johnston Saturday afternoon, July 9. The near-perfect, sunny July Ohio weather contributed to the festive nature of the ceremonial ribbon cutting as board members and contributors who helped fund the project came together for the event.
Former founding superintendent of the Upper Valley Joint Vocational School, Miami County Commissioner, State Legislator and current Johnston Farm & Indian Agency Board Member Dr. Richard Adams served as the master of ceremonies for the occasion. He thanked those in attendance for their support of the Ohio History Connection owned site, “making the day possible.”
Adams then introduced local attorney and current Johnston Farm Board President Michael Gutmann, who thanked those who contributed to the project.
“The goal of this project was to restore the home in such a manner that if John and Rachel Johnston were to walk though the front door, they would immediately feel at home,” Gutmann said. “It is my privilege today to recognize and thank a number of folks who have made this all possible.”
He introduced the members of the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency board, the leadership of Ohio History Connection, and “the members, donors, and supporters who understand the importance of this site and its place in local, state and national history.”
As Adams introduced Ohio History Connection Executive Director Burt Logan, Adams praised his leadership of the organization that serves as Ohio’s partner in preserving and interpreting the state’s history, archaeology, natural history and historic architecture. Ohio History Connection owns and operates 58 historic sites and museums across the state.
Two of those sites are located in Miami County and managed by the board of the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency. They include the former home of John and Rachel Johnston and the Lockington Locks.
“Here, 2,000 years of habitation and change come to life for the visitor,” Logan said in explaining the significance of the site. “From settlement and use of the site by its indigenous occupants; to the collision between the westward push by Europeans and the resistance of the historic-Ohio tribes; to the eventual removal of those tribes; to the construction of Ohio’s canal network; and many other developments over the years, the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency is a perfect setting to discover one of Ohio’s fascinating stories in an immersive and compelling manner. Its significance as a place where Ohio history can be discovered cannot be overstated.
“Which leads to the second significance – John Johnston himself. Here again, you know this story far better than I: youthful immigrant, Northwest Territory explorer, confidant of Presidents, Indian agent, farmer, entrepreneur, investor, canal proponent, advocate of higher education, husband, father, and the list goes on,” Logan said.
“His life and accomplishments would have cast him as a perfect 19th century Forrest Gump: present at and witness to so many pivotal moments in Ohio and the Nation’s past,” Logan remarked. “He indeed was a ‘Man for All Seasons’ – one who was ready to cope with any contingency and whose behavior was always appropriate to every occasion.”
Ohio History Connection’s Director of Facilities Management Fred Smith followed with an explanation of the project. “Restoration practice has changed dramatically since the late 1960’s when the restoration of the Johnston Farm family home was first undertaken,” Smith said. “Our decisions are now based on both documentary and physical evidence and not on interpretative ideas. The restoration of the Adena Mansion in 2003 was a shock to many because of the drastic change in paint colors and wallpaper.
“The house had been restored in the 1950’s with a Colonial-Revival mindset but yet with the highest professionalism of the time,” Smith said. “Since then, paint analysis has come a long way. New paint analysis at Adena revealed that pigments had been mixed with copper, which had oxidized. The ‘scratch and match’ practice of the time resulted in colors that were dull and muted. Once the colors were corrected to remove that oxidation, they were quite vibrant and jarring for many people.
“When Andy (Site Manager Andy Hite) first told me about his conversation with John Carpenter in 2005 and all the things that were done to the house in the first restoration that he thought were wrong, I admit I was skeptical,” Smith said.
In fact, Carpenter was so convinced that the doors, mantlepieces, and woodwork that was removed from the home were original that instead of burning it as he was instructed to do, he placed it in the haymow of the barn. It remained there until this project was undertaken, when it was carefully moved, paint analysis undertaken, and the missing millwork reproduced based on the examples that remained.
“I’ll admit that I was skeptical when this project was first mentioned,” Smith said. “I knew that restoration is extremely expensive. So, I agreed to a project to get the Federal-period millwork back into the home, period!
“That’s how this project started, but it didn’t last long. The more we got into the project, the more we wanted to do. With the great partnership with the Johnston Farm board, Andy’s commitment to John Carpenter, the financial support of the community as well as the General Assembly, we are here today to experience the result of our joint accomplishment,” Smith said.
Site Manager Andy Hite, who has managed the site since 1997, became emotional when he spoke about John Carpenter, the appropriately named local carpenter who undertook the first restoration of the home.
“He was so convinced that the mantles, doors, chair rails, and spindles of the staircase were original that he ignored the suggestion to burn ‘the old stuff.’ He saved them and carefully placed them in the haymow of the barn. We are so fortunate that all these year’s later, the ravages of time, mice and termites left these things alone so that they could be returned to the home for future generations to enjoy,” Hite stated.
“We know from the physical evidence that each of the mantlepieces are now in their appropriate rooms, the staircase extends once again to the third floor, the woodwork in the front parlor is back where it belongs, and even the front parlor door is back where it was when John and Rachel lived here,” Hite said.
“If there is a hero in all of this it is John Carpenter,” Hite said. “This was really his vision, and the result of his far-sightedness all those years ago. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our donors and the State of Ohio who funded this effort.”
Following the ceremonial ribbon cutting at the front door of the home, costumed guides conducted tours of the newly renovated home for those who attended the event, as well as visitors to the site.
The Johnston Farm & Indian Agency Board will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the site’s ownership by Ohio History Connections on Saturday, Aug. 28. The public is invited to attend.
Located in Piqua, Ohio, the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency is accredited by the American Association of Museums. It is open seasonally April through October. Hours are listed online and visitors are advised to call ahead to avoid disappointment.