PIQUA — Johnston Farm & Indian Agency is in the process of going back in time with an ambitious project that will restore portions of the Federal-style farmhouse on the property to the way it looked when John Johnston and his family lived there.
Built between 1812 and 1815, the home will get a facelift of sorts, one based on science and research of the period, along with the foresight of Piqua contractor John Carpenter nearly 50 years ago.
“When I first came here, one of the first people I got to know was John Carpenter, who did some work on the farmhouse. There were about 2,500 slides taken during the original renovation project,” said Site Manager Andy Hite.
“Fortunately, somehow, John was able to save all the original mantels and a lot of the woodwork. We had all that stuff in the barn for almost 50 years!”
Hite said the pieces were dirty, but otherwise in good shape. “It’s basically a dry environment up there; it didn’t go through wet and dry cycles, which would have deteriorated them.”
Last summer, the pieces were sent to Columbus for cleaning, and now, Johnston Farm — in cooperation with the Ohio History Connection and the state of Ohio — is undertaking the $285,460 “Sharing the Vision” project to restore the home’s interior to its historically accurate state.
“We’ve been talking about it for several years; we’ve now got a group of architects tho want to do things right,” Hite explained. “It’s been done at other places — the Adena Mansion in Chillicothe, Grant’s boyhood home — so the precedent has been set to re-restore a property.
“Just north of us, in Shelby County, the Wilson home is laid out almost identical to this house. The interior has never been changed. You see a lot of similar details, so we’ve got a lot of good period proof of what the (Johnston) house looked like, so that there’s no speculation.”
Hite said paint analyses have been done on the house, as well as studies and research about wallpaper and carpeting from the time period.
“For instance, there’s evidence of wallpaper; you see some scraps of it in some of the rooms,” he said, referencing a particular spot in which original wallpaper was found behind a bookcase.
“We do have some old photos, but basically, the house tells its own story,” Hite said.
Hite said that many people don’t realize that the interiors of Federal-style homes often featured bright colors.
“John Johnston lived in Pennsylvania before he came to work with the Indian agency, and his wife, Rachel was from an upper middle class family, so they were used to seeing Federal-style homes,” he said. “What people are going to see when it’s finished will be a lot more spectacular.”
A $78,000 capital grant from the Ohio History Connection is financing part of the project, which is currently in the fundraising stage. Corporate and private donors also have contributed, Hite said. Anyone interested in donating to the “Sharing the Vision” campaign can visit www.johnstonfarmohio.com and click on “Johnston Farm Restoration” to download a printable form.
Hite speculated that the project will take more than a year to complete, but said visitors will be able to see the work in progress. “We’re going to keep the house open so people can watch it happening,” he said. “I think it will spur a lot of interest in what kind of house Johnston had. It will help us tell his story a little bit better, too.
“I hope we are able to re-create the home to where if John Johnston walked in right now, he’d say, ‘I’m home!’”