200 Years Later: Celebrating the Arrival of Orange Johnson


OJ portraitJust about everyone who lives in Worthington is familiar with the name Orange Johnson, one of the city's earliest settlers. Now you have an opportunity to learn more about the man, his life and what brought him to Ohio. On August 24, the Orange Johnson House will host a celebration that honors its namesake and his arrival to our great city. Presented by the Worthington Historical Society, the event will feature master horner Carl Dumke, a walking stick that belonged to Johnson, and several of his original letters from the 1830s and 1840s. "What's exciting about the event is that some of the letters we got in 2012 will be on display, written to and from Orange, for this event only," said Kate LaLonde, director of the Worthington Historical Society. "They are the originals from the 1830s and 1840s, and they are fragile enough that they will never be able to be on permanent display. This is a great chance for people to see the primary documents."

Another highlight of the event will be a hornsmithing demonstration from Dumke, a prominent member of the Honorable Company of Horners and one of the few individuals in this art form who have attained the rank of Master. This is the trade that Johnson practiced when he arrived in Worthington in 1814, using horn to make combs and other utilitarian tools. "The hornsmith will bring to life a craft that most people probably don't think about in their everyday lives. It is an interesting process that most people, including volunteers at the Orange Johnson House, have often only read about," LaLonde said. "He will demonstrate the process of softening cow horn into a pliable, workable medium that can then be shaped into tools and combs."

The public is invited to attend this event and learn about Johnson's life. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 16, and members and children under the age of 5 will be admitted free of charge. For more information, contact 614/885-1247 or visit worthingtonhistory.org.

In the meantime, here’s some Orange Johnson history from the Worthington Historical Society:

Orange Johnson was a young man in 1814 when he traveled from New England to Worthington with a small trunk of combs to sell. By the middle of the century, he was the wealthiest man in Worthington. Born in Mansfield, Connecticut, Johnson trained as a horn smith before heading west after the War of 1912 to seek his fortune. Attracted by James Kilbourn’s Worthington Manufacturing Company, the 24-year-old arrived in August 1814 with a small trunk of combs and reportedly $16.50 in his pocket. He quickly made a $10.50 sale to the Neil Brothers’ store in Urbana. He probably boarded at the company boarding house (now part of 25 Fox Lane), purchased cow horn for his workshop at Mechanics Square and sold his combs through the company’s chain of retail stores.

Although the grammar and spelling in Johnson’s letters reveal his meager formal education, he was an astute businessman and a personable young man. A year after arriving here, he married Achsa Maynard, daughter of Moses Maynard, who owned the prosperous farm directly south of the manufacturing company site. A year later he paid James Allen $1500 for the 35-acre farm and six-room brick house (now known as the Orange Johnson House), which had been built five years earlier by Arora Buttles.

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