We are fortunate in our county to have a great heritage. We have events and people of historic significance that are part of our county history. Along with this, we have had many people in the past who took time to preserve or set off and mark historic locations In Miami County.
There is the Overfield Tavern, the Waco Museum, the Hanktown historic marker, Staley Mill, Elizabeth Township Museum and many others. But, in my opinion, one of the gems of the county is the Piqua Historical Area, aka, the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency.
John Johnston was born March 25, 1775 in either Ireland or Pennsylvania. There are actually two accounts written by Johnston himself. So, the fact is not clear as to whether he was brought to America as a child or was born here. In his 20s, after some time in General Anthony Wayne’s army, Johnston became an Indian Factor in Ft. Wayne, but he soon married and set off for a new location.
Sometime between 1804 and 1808, Johnston purchased the land that would be the farm and brought his young bride, Rachel, to the area. He built his log barn in 1808 and his beautiful brick home and agency house around 1812. He served as an Indian agent for the U.S. government from 1812-1829.
Johnston served an important role as a “buffer” between the Natives of the frontier and the early settlements. During the War of 1812, he helped to keep many of the Natives supplied with goods and provided a place for them to live (on his farm) in order to ensure they were not enticed into the conflict, nor harmed by mistake. He was respected by Native Americans and neighbors alike.
At the Johnston Farm, there are so many things to learn. When I was in the fourth grade, we took a class trip to the site. I remember my young mind just running wild with imagination of all that I learned there. I was fascinated by the large, hollowed out Sycamore tree trunks used as grain barrels, as well as with the demonstration of how wax candles were made in Johnston’s day. Of course, this was important because there was no electricity. The small springhouse where water for drinking, cooking, etc. was collected was so cool. In addition, there are not too many places where one can actually experience a canal boat ride, similar to what it would’ve been in the mid-to-late 19th century.
The farm is also the site of the one of the earliest settlements of any kind in the state. Pickawillany was the site of a Miami Indian village. Later, a trading post was erected next to the settlement as a means of trading with Native Americans.
The museum on the premises, filled with interpretive panels, artifacts and other means of presenting history, assists the visitor with visualizing how life was lived in the past by both Native Americans and European settlers. Although it is difficult to imagine ourselves truly back in the early 19th century, or what it was really like to live at that time, the open and semi-secluded area of the Johnston Farm makes it easier to get a taste of what it may have been like in Johnston’s day.
What better way for school groups, home school parents and co-ops to spend a morning or afternoon than to take trip in the late spring, or early fall to the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency? Of course, you could take the whole family during the summer.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.