- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - The story goes that Joseph Johnson of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, wanted to keep his boys as far from the Civil War as possible.

Figuring his best chance to protect Joseph Jr. and Thomas was going West, Johnson packed up the wagon, hitched up the oxen, headed to Michigan and let the war rage without them, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer (https://bcene.ws/U409Dm).

He found more than 40 acres of land north of a village known as Battle Creek and, in time, he’d add another 80 or so acres.

“I always asked them why did they come up here to that old, stony clay of Michigan,” said 94-year-old Evelyn Wright, the great-granddaughter of Joseph Johnson.

But it was the right move at the right time and now, 150 years later, the Johnson clan is throwing a party to celebrate history and time and survival.

On July 19, Sue Madsen, Evelyn’s daughter, is inviting hundreds of the family’s friends and neighbors to celebrate a special anniversary.

“We’re expecting 300 people, maybe more,” said Sue, who has been planning the shindig for more than a year. “We just want people to come and let the Johnson family entertain you for a day.”

Officially, the Johnson’s purchase of the property was completed on May 12, 1864, but they had tried a year earlier to settle in.

Problems with the sale of their homestead in Ohio forced them to return, pay off some debts and head back the next year.

Over the decades the family grew corn and raised draft horses. Joseph built the family home by hand, a one-story farmhouse that over the years was expanded to two levels and renovated.

He also built the granary and the sheep barn because Eliza Johnson, Joseph’s wife, needed the wool.

“We knitted our own socks, underwear and shirts,” Evelyn said. “It wasn’t just homemade pies back then.”

Thomas, Joseph’s son, built the big red barn that would eventually hold the massive draft horses.

They would expand the homestead, first on one side on the dirt road that would become Hickory Road, and later on the opposite side.

The property was woods as far as the eye could see and the property featured apple, peach and cherry trees.

“Boy, there were some good cherries,” Evelyn said.

Evelyn was born in the house’s front parlor as was her mother, Mabel. Sue, 71, has spent her entire life in the house except for six years when she moved away for work.

Evelyn said she moved away five times at various times, also for work, but kept returning.

And now, after raising families in the farmhouse, it’s just Sue and Evelyn on the 40 acres they still own. The house, in fact, was passed down to Mabel and not to her husband Fred Hunt, who served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

“It’s just us two women holding down the fort,” Sue said, though Evelyn, still sharp and active at 94, lives in her own home behind the farm.

They still farm a little and raise chickens and three cows - which Sue calls “my boys” - still wander the pastures.

But these days Sue has taken to turning the home into something almost resembling a museum. With the help of her kids and grandkids, they have renovated the upstairs bedrooms and, after finding numerous pieces of antique furniture in the barns, have restored them.

In the living room, for example, sits an 1880s spinning wheel and restored “fainting” couch that Evelyn used to sleep on as a child.

There’s a working Victrola and a yoke used by Joseph Johnson’s oxen to pull the wagon from Ohio to Michigan. There’s also a 19th-century pump organ in the living room that, if persuaded, Evelyn will play during the party. All of it will be available to view during the party.

And there are photos, hundreds of photos, from a bygone era that Madsen hopes to place in photo albums that will also be shown to visitors next weekend.

“There’s a lot of stuff here,” Sue said. “Everybody has a story.”

Evelyn and her 104-year-old cousin Nellie Barnes will have a special place to sit and observe the festivities but, Evelyn admits, “I think I’ll be glad when that day’s over.”

The final touches are being placed on the party. Relatives from all over are planning to attend and Sue even decided to use the party as a reunion for students who used to attend the one-room Culver School down the street that she attended so many years ago.

In the end, it’s a chance to remember, to say hello and to say thank you.

“It’s history,” Sue said. “I feel so personally honored to be here and I’ve done nothing to earn it. I was just fortunate to be from the right family.”

___

Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, https://www.battlecreekenquirer.com


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