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Archive for April, 2012

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If These Walls Could Talk

By Emily Sanderson

SPRING CITY–“You could kill me, but they will just send someone else.”

That’s what Judge Jacob Johnson said to Butch Cassidy one night as they shared a beer on his bedroom balcony when the infamous 1800s train robber came through town one night.

The original tile on his living room mantle still includes squares dedicated to each of Johnson’s two dogs, Sensation and Black Prince, complete with their names and illustrations.

Once called the “pink mansion” because of its rosy exterior paint color for many years, the Judge Jacob Johnson House in the 300 South block of 100 West was believed by some to be haunted by Johnson’s first wife, who some have imagined that he killed. However, history records that she died shortly after childbirth.

Teenagers loved to break in through the coal shoot and explore the house around Halloween when it stood vacant for a time.

When Chris and Alison Anderson purchased the home in 2000, the couple found a plaster-faced doll in the basement that was covered with spider webs. A ruined eye that was always open startled Alison when she first found her. Their kids named it “Creepydoll” and wrote a song about it.

However, the couple has never seen a ghost.

“If there are any,” Chris says, “they know we’re here.”

Judge Jacob Johnson

Jacob Johnson and his mother arrived from Aalborg, Denmark, in 1854. Johnson studied law in California but returned to Spring City, where he served as the City Attorney and later as a territorial judge, according to the Friends of Historic Spring City website.

Johnson built the stone, A-frame portion of the house for his first wife in 1875. He built the two-story Danish rotunda and Victorian stained-glass entrance in 1896 for his second wife. The Johnson House was the first in Spring City with indoor plumbing and electric lights.

Johnson never converted to the LDS Church, but he was friendly with the early Saints that settled in the area, many of whom were Scandinavian like him.

The Property

The home, cottage, barn, and granary have been well-preserved over the years, Chris Anderson says. Each of the previous owners had seen to its upkeep. However, the floor of the upper level of the main house sagged when the Andersons purchased the property, but that was because ceiling supports had been cut out when the modern heating system was installed. Gratefully, not too much damage had been done, and the couple was able to fix the problem during their four-year restoration process.

Chris, a business attorney from Salt Lake City, initially purchased the property because of his interest in a painting that hung on one of the walls in the home. An art collector, Chris negotiated with the previous owner that the artworks inside would come with it.

The Andersons sold their home in Salt Lake City, an older house in the community that they had also restored. They then made the Johnson home their primary residence. Chris continued to work in the city as Alison directed the restoration process during the week, and Chris stepped right into the hard work during weekends.

“We were interested in the rural experience,” Chris says. “The kids were out of the house, and we wanted to keep life interesting.”

The Cottage

Of the five buildings on the property, the Andersons began work on the cottage first. Doing so would give the couple a place to live while they worked on the other structures.

The cottage, originally used as Johnson’s courtroom and office, was built as a two-room structure with a steep staircase that jogged awkwardly to an upper room. A cinderblock room was added on to that building later that has been used as a bedroom.

Renters had done drugs in the cottage in recent years, so the Andersons had to completely gut the place to remove the dangerous chemicals that still lingered in the drywall and insulation. The Andersons removed the staircase and added an attic door. They removed a false ceiling and restored the two-door main entrance that had been cheaply modified to strut one door. In addition, they altered the windows in the bedroom to match the original windows’ tall dimensions, and they added stucco to the extension’s exterior to make it appear like period adobe.

The Andersons now use the cottage to house friends or family who come to visit over a weekend. The cottage is a great get-away that the couple often use themselves.

“It is the perfect place to watch period British movies like ‘Downton Abbey,’” Alison says, as the building seems to transport you back to those times.

Main House

The original two-story A-frame consisted of a kitchen and sitting room on the first level and two bedrooms on the second level. The addition includes a majestic entrance and porch, a staircase to the second level and a hallway to the back, a parlor room, two utility rooms in the back, and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The master bedroom includes a large balcony that extends along the southwest corner of the house.

The A-frame portion was built with pine wood, where the addition was built with fir. A common practice unique among the Mormon settlers was to paint the readily available pine and other plainer woods to look like a prettier wood. The sliding door to the parlor was carefully painted to look like oak on one side and mahogany on the other.

Alison has carefully painted the window framing boards to match the painted woodwork in the home. She also removed the carpet in the house and restored the original wood flooring.

“It is mostly cosmetic what we’ve done,” Chris says about the main house. Because the house was in such good condition, they were able to preserve much of what they found there, other than fixing the ceiling supports. The couple also removed the rickety servant’s staircase in the northwest corner.

They removed a wall that split the kitchen, but they split the large servant’s bathroom upstairs into three separate bathrooms including the master bathroom, a guestroom bathroom, and a hall bathroom.

The Andersons also took out the large, wrought iron coal stoves in each of the rooms.

“We had to make a decision between historic preservation and usability,” Alison says. The stoves took up such a large portion of the rooms and made it difficult to do much with their interior designs. They also removed the wash basins.

Alison took considerable care to design the kitchen for usability. She needed a place to store all their dishes, but she also wanted to work with the existing architecture. She removed the Formica counters that had cut right across the tall windows. She then installed modern cupboards and counter space along the walls. Underneath the two windows, she added cushioned sitting areas with built-in storage space below. In addition, she built a large center island that provides additional counter space and storage.

The Barn and Yard

The couple now uses the barn and yard to host outdoor parties in the summer. They have added stone walkways, flower gardens, and a chicken coop to the yard and have replaced the picket fence. They also built a garage for their cars that they designed to look like a red barn.

The Andersons removed truckload after truckload of weeds and junk from the yard and from inside all of the buildings on the property during the restoration process. The largest and most expensive tasks during the process were building five new roofs and adding three furnaces. The cottage uses one furnace, and the main house has two. The couple completed the restoration process in 2004 but continue to improve the property with little projects they pursue.

The couple has made every effort to utilize local artists during the restoration process and prominently display local paintings throughout the home and cottage. Upon their arrive, the couple soon learned that Spring City residents care very much about the Jacob Johnson House.

“People drove by the house each day to see all that we were doing,” Chris says. He recognizes that the house is an important resource in the community that has historical value.

The house was awarded the Utah Heritage Foundation Award for its superior workmanship.

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