JAMES GUTHRIE JOHNSON, one of the prominent citizens of Carthage, Ill., well deserves mention in the history of his adopted county, for besides being a man of enterprise and activity, in whom the thriving spirit of the age predominates, he is a man of broad and liberal mind, conversant on all questions of the day.
He was born in Jefferson County, Ky., about twelve miles from Louisville, December 24, 1827, and is a son of George and Eleanor (Guthrie) Johnson. His maternal grandparents were James and Elizabeth (Cooper) Guthrie. The former was one of the pioneers of Kentucky, and made a home eleven miles from Louisville, at the intersection of two much-traveled roads, where he kept a tavern. He built a stone house, which still stands, a relic of former greatness. It was erected in 1774, and became a popular resort with the traveling public. There the numerous Catholic missionaries were instructed to remain until an escort was sent to conduct them safely further west.
James Guth rie was a prominent character in his day and knew all the prominent pioneers of the State. One of his daughters, Margaret, lived for many long years in the old stone house, and in speaking of her death the Christian Observer said: “On Thursday, December 22, 1892, Miss Margaret Guthrie, of Ferran Creek, Jefferson County, Ky., passed away in peace. She was ninety-two years and nine months old, had been a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church for sixty-eight years, and until past the age of eighty-eight had been a regular attendant at Sabbath-school. There are now living four generations of the family who were instructed by her. She was the last of twelve children who reached the average age of seventy-six years. One of the most liberal givers to the church while she lived, she bequeathed her house and land to the church for a parsonage. She was always to be found at the bedside of the sick, walking miles in her old age to impart comfort to the afflicted. At her death she was the oldest subscriber of the Christian Observer, having read it for upwards of fifty years.”
When our subject was in his fourth year his parents removed to Adams County, Ill., in October, 1831, and the father entered land from the Government and made a home. He was a blacksmith by trade, and carried on a smithy on his farm. He was born December 15, 1799, in Kentucky, and died on the old homestead in this State March 5, 1867. His wife, who was born in the old home mentioned, near Louisville, January 21, 1802, passed away April 10, 1887. Mr. Johnson was the first nurseryman of Adams County, and set out trees in the hazel brush before he had broken any ground. He carried on the nursery business until 1850. In the family were nine children, and with the exception of one who died at the age of three, all are yet living.
James Guthrie Johnson was reared on the home farm, and from early boyhood was a great admirer of the changing beauties of nature, which he studied closely. His love of the beautiful has gone with him throughout his life, undimmed by business cares. On attaining his majority, he left home and was married, on December 24, 1850, to Miss Melvina Jane Thomas, who lived in the same neighborhood. They began their domestic life upon a farm in Adams County, and there remained until 1855, when they settled on a partially improved farm of one hundred and sixty acres in Durham Township, Hancock County. There Mr. Johnson carried on farming until the fall of 1863, when he bought land near Elvaston.
Three years later he came to Carthage, where he engaged in growing osage-hedge plants, and in making contracts for setting out fences of the same, for some years. In 1871 he secured patents for a corn-husking peg, known as the Johnson Husker, and established a factory for its manufacture. He has since given his time to this business, which has proved very successful, yielding him a handsome competence, much of which he has invested in farming lands. He has visited nearly all the corn-growing States, making arrangements for the sale of his invention, which is now largely used.
In 1884, Mr. Johnson was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife, who passed away on the 3d of December. On the 18th of November, 1886, he wedded Miss Minerva Hughes, of Ursa, Adams County, Ill. His family numbers two daugh ters: Rebecca Ella, wife of N. P. McKee, an artist and teacher of painting of Carthage; and Alice Geneva, wife of W. L. Aaron, an attorney of Hays City, Kan.
The home of the Johnson family is one of the most desirable residence properties in Carthage. It is a commodious house, standing in the midst of well-kept grounds, that are adorned with beau tiful shrubbery. One has scarcely entered the door before he is impressed by the atmosphere of taste and refinement which pervades this home.
For twenty-five years Mr. Johnson has been col lecting rare and interesting works, both of men and nature. We have before mentioned his love for the beautiful in nature, which is equaled only by his appreciation of the delicate and lovely in art. The walls of his home are handsomely adorned by many interesting and beautiful arti cles, many of which are the works of his own hand. From polished horns taken from domestic cattle and goats, he has made several valuable ornaments. He also has a fine pair of deer horns; a large hornets’ nest, which hangs on a branch where the busy insects placed it; stuffed birds of all sizes, from the humming-bird to the white crane; the saw of the dangerous saw-fish, and many Indian relics, including pipes, clothing, etc. In a number of large glass cabinets are thousands of choice and valuable souvenirs. There are hundreds of varieties of birds’ eggs, varying in size from that of the humming-bird and titmouse to that of the ostrich, together with alligator, turtle eggs, etc. Other cabinets contain fine specimens of oceanic animals and sub-marine growths, together with all kinds of shells, wonderful for their beauty and delicacy of tint. Sea-mosses and corals add their loveliness to the collection, and the admirable arrangement of the specimens show how carefully Mr. Johnson has studied designs and colors. What so elevates one as the study of nature unmarred by man ? This home is a delicate curiosity-shop, which speaks in no uncertain terms of the cultured taste and keen appreciation of the owner for all that is most beautiful and noble upon this earth.
File contributed by: Sandy Morrey
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Hancock, McDonough and Henderson counties, Illinois : containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, pp. 127-131. [Chicago, Ill.] : Lake City Pub. Co. 1894.