Many of the early homes in Irvington are no longer standing. They stood close to commercial businesses, were cut into apartments, and in some cases cleared for parking lots. The Johnson Home, sadly, is one of those dwellings long gone from the Irvington landscape. Sylvester and Rachel Johnson were two of the first residents of the neighborhood. They left their comfortable life in Dublin in Wayne County, Indiana to be a part of an exciting new dream--a suburban neighborhood. Mr. Johnson partnered with Jacob Julian (another Wayne County resident) to buy the Sandusky farm in Warren Township. Both men had been to Glendale, a suburb of Cincinnati, and decided to model Irvington after that beautiful place with its meandering streets and tall homes.
Built in the Italianate style, Sylvester and Rachel saw their dream home at 62 South Audubon Road come to fruition by 1872. Jacob Julian built a matching villa across the street. (also demolished...see link below) The Johnsons, both in their late 40s, brought their four adult children, Francenia, Eudorus, Martha, and Oliver, along with them. Eudoris would later build the "Castle House" at 5631 University Avenue in 1876.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were strict prohibitionist and they advocated for Irvington to be an alcohol-free neighborhood. No saloon or bar would be welcome in the new enclave. The Johnsons were Quakers as were other early founders of the upper-middle class utopia. Mr. Johnson was an active horticulturalist and he founded the Indiana Horticultural Society. His expansive lawn was filled with beautiful trees and flower specimens. He became a renown expert on grapes and grew 185 species on his property. He even judged grapes at the Chicago and St. Louis World Fairs in 1893 and 1904. Butler University students frequently walked by his property and noted that Mr. Johnson was nearly always outside working in his yard even as he neared 90 years of age. Sadness struck the Johnsons over the years as two of their children died at a young age and Rachel Johnson died in 1899. Two years later, Mr. Johnson married Eunice Brown Gilkey at the age of 79. She was 63!
In this historic photograph, likely taken around 1912, two children gather on a winter's day on the family estate. One child is black and the other is white. We do not know the names of the children. Note the expansive lawn and the beautiful home. The second image reveals the original plat of Irvington by Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian. The Johnson home was located along Central (Audubon) and was situated on lot 52. The Jacob Julian home was across the street on lot 39. The George Washington Julian Home (still standing) can be seen on lots 60 and 61.
The historic image of the Johnson Home is courtesy of Larry Muncie.