History of Johnson Township, Champaign
From: History of Champaign County, Ohio
Judge Evan P. Middleton, Supervising Editor
B. F. Bowen & Company Inc. (Publisher)
Indianapolis, Indiana 1917
Johnson township, named in honor of Silas Johnson, its first permanent settler, was cut off from Concord township and is one of the several townships of the county which fell within the limits of the original Mad River township of 1805. Later, upon the organization of Concord township, it was made a part of that township and subsequently was set off as an independent political organization when it was sufficiently settled to justify its erection into an independent township.
PROBABLY HIGHEST POINT IN THE STATE.
As now organized Johnson township contains thirty sections of land or nineteen thousand two hundred acres. It is the middle township of the western tier, being bounded on the north by Adams township, on the east by Concord and Mad River townships, on the south by Jackson township and on the west by Miami and Shelby counties. It falls within ranges II and 12 of township 3. The township bears the unique distinction of having probably as high an altitude as any one township in the state of Ohio. It was stated in one of the state geological reports that Johnson township had one point with an elevation of one thousand three hundred and twenty six feet, but the latest map of the department of the interior gives the highest point of the township as one thousand two hundred and fifty feet. Of course, there may be higher points in the township, but this altitude was the highest recorded by the government surveyors in 1916. This point is in the southeastern corner of section 7, about a quarter of a mile north of the Pence school house.
DRAINAGE AND TOPOGRAPHY.
The township presents a curious topographical study. Roughly speaking, its surface falls into two watersheds,
the south and east portion falling into the Mad River valley with Nettle creek as the drainage factor, and the
north and west falling into the watershed of the Great Miami, with Mosquito creek as the drainage agent. When the
Detroit, Toledo & Ironton railroad was built it passed along the watershed between Nettle and Mosquito creeks.
With the watershed to the east of the middle of the township most of the territory falls within the basin of Miami
river. The only body of water in the county which approaches the dignity of a lake is found in section 16, in the
northern part of the township. This lake is nothing more than an expansion of the creek of the same name. In former
years this expansion created a swampy lake of half a mile in length, extending across the southwest quarter of
section 16 from east to west, but at the present time it is reduced in size to a few rods in width and some score
of rods in length.
EVIDENCES OF THE GLACIAL PERIOD
In no other township in the county has nature been so lavish with topographical decorations. Sharply rising
hills and correspondingly precipitous valleys are to be found up and down Nettle and Mosquito creeks and the many
little streams which find their way into these creeks. Hidden away in these hills are to be found bountiful beds
of gravel, and the geologist who walks over the township is greeted with kames and eskers on every hand. Indisputable
proof that the glacial period found Johnson township submerged under a coat of snow and ice is to be seen by the
most casual observer. The farmer who hauls a load of gravel to fill a mud hole in the barn lot does not stop to
think that he would not have that gravel if it had not been for the glacier invasion of tens of thousands of years
LARGEST BUCKEYE TREE IN THE STATE.
The township was originally heavily forested with all kinds of hardwood trees peculiar to this latitude. In
all their majestic splendor there were to be found the poplar, ash, walnut, maple, oak, beech, sugar, hickory and
buckeye. Everywhere the sugar and beech were to be found on the upland and the oak and hickory on the lower levels.
But these forests have practically disappeared and today only scattered clumps of trees are to be found in the
township, the most extensively forested tracts being found on the high lands bordering Mosquito and Nettle creeks.
FIRST SETTLER IN TOWNSHIP.
Silas Johnson, the first settler in the township bearing his name, was born in Virginia in 1758, later locating
in Fayette county, Kentucky, and came to what is now Johnson township in the spring of 1802 with his two sons,
James and Charles. They cleared a site for a cabin and spent the summer clearing up the tract of ground surrounding
the cabin. It would be interesting to present on the page in this connection a photograph of this first house in
Johnson township, but there were no kodaks in 1803. The house was only a rude log affair, this first cabin in Johnson
township, but it was home to Silas Johnson, his wife, Phebe, and their children seven - Walker and James (twins),
Charles, Silas, Jr., Rebecca, Elizabeth and Phebe. To this humble cabin came these nine members of the Johnson
family in January, 1803, but the little cabin soon proved too small and they built a large one a few hundred feet
below the site of the old one. Here they lived until after the land on which they had squatted was surveyed. Then
the settlers began to pour in and when Johnson's land was valued by the government appraisers they fixed a value
of eight dollars an acre on it, which meant that Johnson would have to pay that much in order to keep it. Rather
than pay this much he decided to move and accordingly moved to an adjoining section on the north.
OTHER EARLY SETTLERS.
Following Johnson came an aged pioneer by the name of Carter, who with two sons and two daughters and two sons-in-law, Cox and Fleming, made a temporary stop of three years in the township. The Carter contingent left en masse in 1807 for regions farther west. In the same year John and Philip Long came to the township from Horseshoe Bend, Rockinham county, Virginia. There were two John Longs, who, in conformance with their relative sizes, were known as "Big" John and "Little" John. "Big" John and Philip were brothers, while "Little" John, although from the same Virginia neighborhood, was of different family and came somewhat later to the township. To add to the John Long confusion a third Long bearing the same prefix arrived in the township and it became necessary to find a descriptive adjective for him. Whether he was big or little, history does not record, but he was probably about the size of either "Big" or "Little" John, and for this reason he was known to his neighbors as "Cucumber" Johnwhy the cucumber prefix is not known. "Big" John located, on one hundred and sixty acres on the southwest corner of section 2. His first wife died childless, and he had only one child by his second wife, a daughter of a neighbor, Brubaker. "Big" John, whose weight is handed down as three hundred pounds, finally went West, where there was more room, and died. Philip, the brother of "Big" John, entered the southeast corner of section 2, built a log cabin and was one of the first settlers of the township to boast of having glass in his window he had one four light window. He died in 1837 and lies buried on the farm he entered, as does his wife. He left one daughter, Rebecca.
VICTIMS OF SMALLPDX SCOURGE.
Acory Berry, a son-in-law of Lewis Hanback, came from Shenandoah county, Virginia, to Johnson township in 1807.
Berry and his wife came to the township shortly after their marriage and settled in township 6, where they entered
half a section. They had four children, all born in the township, and all, if reports are to be trusted, destined
to be carried off by the smallpox scourge which swept over the county in the forties.
It seems to the present generation impossible for people to have lived as our forefathers had to live. The fact
of the matter is that they probably lived just as happy and contented lives as we of today, and could they be permitted
to spend a few weeks with us in our modern homes and be compelled to participate in all the many things which make
up our modern complex life, they would prefer to return to the simple life they enjoyed a century ago. Take the
case of the Silas Johnson family of a hundred years ago, or the Comer family which later settled on the Johnson
A GOOD INDIAN STORY.
So many stories have been handed down concerning these early settlers that a volume could easily be written about their varied experiences. One Indian story of Silas Johnson and two of his sons is worth repeating. About sundown one evening Silas Johnson and two sons were grouped around the fire in the woods cooking their meager supper, when a couple of Indians approached them and began talking in a loud and threatening manner. The Indians were indignant to find the whites encroaching upon what they thought was their hunting grounds, although they were perfectly aware that all the territory in Champaign county had been bought from the Indians and that they had no right to contest the title. But there was no telling what an Indian might do. In the midst of the heated harangue of the Indians, Johnson thought that one of the Indians was casting his eye toward his (Johnson's) gun, and instantly Johnson made a dive for his gun and at the same instant the agile Indian did the same. Johnson got the gun and the next instant pointed it at the Indian. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, he hesitated, thinking that it might be better to spare his life. Then like a flash he conceived the notion of disposing of the Indian temporarily by giving him a sound whack over the head with the gun. This he did and the Indian promptly laid down in his tracks, while the other Indian just looked on and grinned. It was a way the Indians had of doing things. Strange to say the Indian who was thus suddenly laid out and down, had nothing to say when he recovered his wits - just got up and walked away. And the Johnsons had no more trouble with those Indians.
SMALLPDX CLAIMS MANY PIONEERS.
When the Comers arrived in the spring of 1810 Adam Hite was already settled on an adjoining section with his
family. Peter Smith had also found a home in the neighborhood, and it was at his house that Philip Comer stayed
when he was making his prospecting trip to the county. Philip Comer died in 1824 and he and his wife and several
of the children are buried on the old Comer farm, the family cemetery being about a mile northwest of the present
village of Millerstown.
A TRANSPLANTED VIRGINIA COMMUNITY.
It is an interesting study in local history to follow the early settlers back to their native states. A study,
for instance, of Johnson township would show that when a group of settlers from any Virginia county once got settled
in Champaign county, that the next few years would see many more coming from the same locality and making their
homes in this county. Thus it was with the community in Shenandoah county, Virginia. The Comers, the Judys, the
Maggarts, and others came one after the other, singly and in groups, and thus the little community around Millerstown
in Champaign county was nothing more than a transplanted Virginia community.
SQUIRE KIZER AND "OLD SIMON."
Kizer was one of the most influential citizens of the township for many years; he was a justice of the peace
continuously until 1827; he reared a large family to lives of usefulness; all records concerning his life in the
township until his death in 1869 bespeak his worthiness. Along with the account of this worthy pioneer should be
mentioned his old horse, affectionately known as "Old Simon", the horse which carried him back and forth
to and from his old Virginia home. This faithful horse lived to the advanced age of thirty three and at his death
was buried with all the equine honors due his distinguished career.
FIRST COMMERCIAL CENTER IN JOHNSON TOWNSHIP.
These good settlers of the Millerstown vicinity had to have a few commodities brought in; not very many, but
still a few. They had to have salt, powder, shot, a little calico and a very few other articles. Someone had to
keep a store and someone must perforce start a mill. These two institutions were absolutely essential. Thus it
came to pass that a settler answering to the name of Shrofe had the first store. Just what he kept in stock, we
do not know, but he was a very necessary adjunct to the life of the community. His little shop was in one of the
log houses built by old pioneer, Silas Johnson. He had to haul his goods in and it is no stretch of the imagination
to picture the inside of his little store - the few shelves, the few barrels, the few boxes. The odor of various
and sundry pelts and furs permeated the atmosphere, and some of these odors were very unlike the perfume which
has made Arabia famous. This Shrofe, or at least a man by that name, had a vision to the effect that a village,
probably a city, might be built in the eastern part of Johnson township. To put his vision into execution was an
FIRST MILL IN TOWNSHIP.
The first grist mill used by the settlers of Johnson township was located in Concord township and was opened by John Norman on Nettle creek. It was a crude water power mill, capable of only a limited daily output. In later years mills were established in sections 26, 34, 15 and 24 in Johnson township and in the towns of Millerstown and St. Paris. The sawmill in section 26 was owned by Elisha C. Berry, one of the most prominent of the early citizens in the township and county, and the grandfather of Lou B. Berry, the present county treasurer. David Berry operated a carding machine as early as 1827 and undoubtedly found plenty to do, but it took so much of his time that he disposed of it to a man by the name of Ford. The first grist mill appeared about 1823 on the farm of William Hill, near where Mosquito creek widened out into what was formerly called Mosquito lake. The first saw mill was built by Henry Long in 1820 on Mosquito creek near the lake and was the only water power mill in the northern part in the township. The first steam saw mill in the township was built by Samuel McCord, a resident of Urbana at the time, and stood along the railroad track about a mile west of St. Paris. A saw mill was in operation at Millerstown shortly after the town was platted, established by one of the sons of Elisha Berry and later operated by the firm of Berry & Weller.
SCHOOLS AND CHURCHES.
The history of the schools and churches of the township may be found in other chapters. It may be mentioned
that the first school house in the township was erected in 1817 on the Zerkle farm, and was a round log building,
eighteen by twenty feet, and as meagerly equipped as were all the early school houses. Section 16 in this township
was probably as wet and swampy as any in it and consequently no one wanted to buy it. It could not be farmed and
hence could not be rented. Therefore the township derived no revenue at all from a tract which was supposed to
bring sufficient money when sold to build at least three school houses, or, if rented, to yield sufficient annual
income to support one school. The township finally sold the section and the proceeds were placed in the school
fund. As the township grew in numbers additional school districts were added and by the seventies there were nine
school districts with as many different buildings.
The village of Millerstown, located in the center of section 2, along the eastern side of Johnson township,
was surveyed by John Arrowsmith for John and Charles C. Miller, cousins and proprietors. The original plat contained
thirty two lots and was recorded on April 14, 1837. Five successive additions have been made to the original plat:
Two lots on December 2, 1837, by C. C. Miller; six out lots on November 10, 1846; by Abraham S. Stuck; one lot
on March I, 1848, by Jacob Miller; two lots on April 8, 1853, by Jacob Miller and Jacob Ammon, and one lot on September
9, 1856, by Jacob Miller.