Biography of Joseph C. Johnson

Joseph C. Johnson. Hale and hearty, with firm step and unclouded mind, Joseph C. Johnson at the age of eighty years is one of Champaign County’s oldest living native sons. It has been his privilege to witness with his own eyes and bear a not unimportant part in the development of this rich and prosperous section of Illinois from a period when it was wild prairie and even wilder swamps. Mr. Johnson is now enjoying the comforts of a retired home in the town of St. Joseph.

He was born in Urbana Township of Champaign County, December 25, Christmas Day, 1837. He was one of the six children, three sons and three daughters, of Amos and Sarah (Moss) Johnson, both of whom were natives of Ohio. The birth of Mr. Johnson indicates that they were among the earliest pioneers of Champaign County. When they came the land was all new and it was possible to shoot deer on the prairies, while around the lonely cabins of the early settlers the wolves howled every night and inspired fear in the children and frequently devastated the poultry and sheep yards of the farmers.

Joseph C. Johnson attended school with other children of that neighborhood, the schoolhouse being built of logs with the curriculum as limited as the furnishings. Many of the people of that day in Champaign County lived in log buildings without floors.

At the age of twenty-eight Joseph C. Johnson laid the foundation of his own home by his marriage to Susan Ann Cloyd. She was born in Indiana, a daughter of William and Hannah Cloyd. After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Johnson settled in St. Joseph Township and began farming 011 a rented place. They had youth, enthusiasm and industry, and out of their careful earnings and savings they bought their first farm of eighty acres in section 16. This was school land and the price they paid was sixteen dollars an acre. There were no improvements, and it was necessary to convert the wild prairie into productive fields. In the course of time this land was producing crops, buildings arose from time to time with increased comfort and facilities, they planted fruit and shade trees, and to this day a fine grove of walnut trees stands as a monument to their early efforts at forestation.

Two children were born to this happy couple, William A. and Henrietta. The children were given the advantages of the district schools in Stanton Township and enjoyed the happy and care-free life of childhood. When they were still young their beloved mother was called by death, and Mr. Johnson for some years had the responsibilities of the farm and the care and training of his children. Later he married Celia A. (Prugh) Harris. Mrs. Johnson was born in Ohio, daughter of Aquilla T. and Rebecca (Dickinson) Prugh. Her parents were also natives of Ohio.

For a great many years Mr. Johnson continued to reside on his homestead, which he had increased to 120 acres. In 1911 he decided to leave the farm, his children having married and started homes of their own, and since that date he has lived in St. Joseph with a comfortable home on Lincoln Street.

His son, William Johnson, married Effie Radebogh. He is a successful farmer in Indiana, living five miles northeast of Winchester. His family of children consists of Mabel, Gladys, Cloyd, Leah, Willard and Ruth. Just recently the sad death of Mr. Johnson’s little granddaughter, Ruth Ellen Johnson, occurred at his home at St. Joseph, on August 23, 1917, when she was but two years, nine months and twenty-one days old. Her mother had come on a visit from Indiana, and the little child was taken sick and died here. The daughter, Henrietta Johnson, is the wife of George Phenicie. He is a farmer in Stanton Township, and they have children named Joseph Merle, Abner, Roy, Harold and Chester.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are active members and liberal supporters of the Christian Church. In matters of politics he is a Democrat and has always taken an active interest in local affairs and the welfare of his community. He was elected school trustee, also road commissioner, and served the public faithfully and well for seven years, finally resigning office because of poor health.

Mr. Johnson well remembers the time when Urbana consisted of a hamlet of a few houses, while not a single building stood on the present site of Champaign. He recalls the site of the present city buildings of Champaign as a pond or swamp with five or six feet of water even in dry weather. A great deal of credit is due a man like Mr. Johnson, since he was one of the individuals who performed that great aggregate undertaking of making Champaign County one of the garden spots of the world. As a. boy in his excursions about the country he frequently saw the fiats covered with wild ducks and geese, and as they rose from the water the numbers were so great that in their flight they darkened the sun. Much of this swamp land now so productive and valuable could have been bought in Mr. Johnson’s time for twelve and a half cents an acre.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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