Johnston Farm family home rededicated

PIQUA – More than 250 people gathered for the rededication of the family home of John and Rachel Johnston on Saturday afternoon, July 9. Near-perfect, sunny Ohio weather in July contributed to the celebratory nature of the groundbreaking ceremony as board members and contributors who helped fund the project gathered 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 master of ceremony 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 lawyer and current chairman of the Johnston Farm board, Michael Gutmann, who thanked those who contributed to the project.

“The goal of this project was to restore the house in such a way that if John and Rachel Johnston walked through the front door, they would immediately feel at home,” Gutmann said. “I am privileged today to recognize and thank a number of people who made this all possible.”

He introduced the members of the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency Board of Directors, the leadership of the Ohio History Connection and “members, donors and supporters who understand the significance of this site and its place in local history, state and national”.

As Adams introduced Ohio History Connection executive director Burt Logan, Adams praised his leadership in the organization that serves as Ohio’s partner in the preservation and interpretation of history, archaeology, natural history and historic architecture of the State. Ohio History Connection owns and operates 58 historic sites and museums across the state.

Two of these sites are located in Miami County and operated by the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency Board of Directors. They include the former home of John and Rachel Johnston and Lockington Locks.

“Here, 2,000 years of habitation and change come alive for the visitor,” Logan said of the site’s significance. “Of the colonization and use of the site by its native occupants; the collision between the westward thrust by the Europeans and the resistance of the historic tribes of Ohio; the eventual elimination of these tribes; the construction of the Ohio canal system; and many other developments over the years, the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency is an ideal setting to experience one of Ohio’s fascinating histories in an immersive and compelling way. Its importance as a place where Ohio’s history can be discovered cannot be overstated.

“Which brings us to the second meaning – John Johnston himself. Again, you know this story far better than I do: young immigrant, explorer of the Northwest Territories, confidant of presidents, Indian agent, farmer, entrepreneur, investor, canal promoter, advocate for higher education, husband, father, and the list goes on,” Logan said.

“His life and accomplishments would have made him the perfect 19th century Forrest Gump: present and witness to so many pivotal moments in Ohio and the nation’s past,” Logan remarked. “He was indeed a ‘Man for All Seasons’ – someone who was prepared for any eventuality and whose demeanor was always appropriate for every occasion.”

Ohio History Connection Director of Facilities Management Fred Smith followed with an explanation of the project. “The practice of restoration has changed dramatically since the late 1960s, when restoration of the Johnston Farm family home was first undertaken,” Smith said. “Our decisions are now based on documentary and physical evidence and not on interpretative ideas. The restoration of the Adena Mansion in 2003 came as a shock to many due to the drastic change in paint colors and wallpaper.

“The house had been restored in the 1950s with a colonial revival spirit but with the utmost professionalism of the time,” Smith said. “Since then, painting analysis has come a long way. A 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 dull, muted colors. Once the colors were corrected to remove this 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 during the first restoration that he thought were wrong , I admit I was skeptical,” Smith said.

In fact, Carpenter was so convinced that the doors, mantels and trim that had been removed from the house were original that instead of burning them as he had been instructed to do, he placed them in the hay of barn. It remained there until this project was undertaken, when it was carefully moved, an analysis of the paintwork was undertaken and the missing joinery reproduced from the remaining examples.

“I admit I was skeptical when this project was first mentioned,” Smith said. “I knew that catering is extremely expensive. So, I accepted a project to bring Federal period carpentry back into the house, 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 excellent partnership with the Johnston Farm Board of Directors, Andy’s commitment to John Carpenter, the financial support from the community as well as the General Assembly, we are here today to find out the outcome of our joint achievement,” Smith said.

Site manager Andy Hite, who has managed the site since 1997, became emotional when he spoke of John Carpenter, the aptly named local carpenter who undertook the first restoration of the house.

“He was so convinced that the staircase mantels, doors, picture rails and spindles were original that he ignored the suggestion to burn ‘the old stuff’. He rescued them and carefully placed them in the hay from the barn. We are so lucky that all these years later the ravages of time, mice and termites have left these things alone so they can be returned home for future generations to enjoy,” Hite said.

“We know from physical evidence that each of the fireplaces is now in its proper room, the staircase extends again to the third floor, the front living room woodwork is back in place, and even the living room door entrance is back to where it was when John and Rachel lived here,” Hite said.

“If there’s a hero in all of this, it’s John Carpenter,” Hite said. “It was truly his vision, and the result of his foresight all those years ago. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our donors and the State of Ohio who funded this effort.

After the dedication ceremony at the front door of the house, costumed guides conducted tours of the newly renovated house for those who attended the event, as well as site visitors.

The Johnston Farm & Indian Agency Board of Directors will celebrate the 50th anniversary of ownership of the site by Ohio History Connections on Saturday, August 28. The public is invited to attend.

Located in Piqua, Ohio, Johnston Farm & Indian Agency is accredited by the American Association of Museums. It is open seasonally from April to October. Times are listed online and visitors are advised to call ahead to avoid disappointment.

Ohio History Connection Director of Facilities Management Fred Smith explains how historians’ interpretation of historic sites has changed over time.

Ohio History Connection executive director Burt Logan explains the significance of the Johnston Farm site, “where more than 2,000 years of human habitation comes alive for the visitor.”

Attending the dedication ceremony are (left to right) Board Members Mike Barhorst, Jim Oda, Doug Christian, Ohio History Connection Executive Director Burt Logan, Johnston Farm Site Manager Andy Hite, President Johnston Farm Board of Directors Mike Gutmann, Board Members Dwayne Thompson, Richard Adams, Megan Wood, Executive Director of Ohio History Connection, and Board Members George Atkinson and Nancy Luce.

Johnston Farm site manager Andy Hite became emotional when he spoke of John Carpenter’s significant contributions as well as those of donors to the restoration project.

Attending the dedication ceremony are (left to right) Board Members Mike Barhorst, Jim Oda, Doug Christian, Ohio History Connection Executive Director Burt Logan, Johnston Farm Site Manager Andy Hite, President Johnston Farm Board of Directors Mike Gutmann, Board Members Dwayne Thompson, Richard Adams, Megan Wood, Executive Director of Ohio History Connection, and Board Members George Atkinson and Nancy Luce.

Ohio History Connection Executive Director Burt Logan discusses the Johnston Farm House renovation with Johnston Farm Site Manager Andy Hite, Johnston Farm Chairman of the Board Mike Gutmann and Ohio History Connection facilities manager Fred Smith in the renovated family dining room at Johnston Farm.

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