Hiram Township – The Historic John Johnson Home in Hiram Township means different things to different people. It’s a historic site for some; a pleasant backdrop to Monroe’s Orchard for others. But for believers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), this is holy ground.
So say Elders Grant Howarth and Damon Bahr, who are hosting tours through the Johnson Home along with their wives, Sisters Toni and Kim, respectively. For them, this is a mission field, six months of time donated toward their shared objective: “To draw people unto Christ, to feel the spirit here, and to sense the importance of this early church history.”
Second to that is their desire to share their sense of allegiance to Prophet Joseph Smith, a pioneer visionary who founded the Mormon faith and came from the East Coast to stay at the Johnson home on Pioneer Trail in September of 1831. During that year, momentous events occurred at the home, both for local history and for Mormon heritage. That might explain why nearly 5,000 visitors toured the Johnson Home in 494 guided tours just in the month of July (13,000 visitors annually). Ninety percent of the visitors are religious pilgrims; 10 percent are history buffs. To the 90 percent, touring the Johnson Home is akin to visiting the Holy Land or following the evangelistic footsteps of the Apostle Paul. The home is open six days a week, five hours daily; closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The LDS Church was formally organized by Smith on April 6, 1830, in western New York. Smith travelled to Kirtland, Ohio because he was directed to do so by God; he moved onto Hiram “for a quiet place to work,”. Joseph Smith brought 200 adherents from New York along with him. Once here, his preaching, visions and Book of Mormon drew thousands from the Western Reserve into the faith. Today, with nearly 16 million adherents worldwide and 6 million in the U.S., the Mormon Church is ranked by the National Council of Churches as the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States. Of the church’s 147 temples, the closest is in Columbus. There are scores of meetinghouses scattered about the country, the closest being right next door to the Johnson Home.
Under the doctrine of continuing revelation, Latter-Day Saints believe that Jesus Christ, under the direction of God the Father, leads the church by revealing his will to its president, who is regarded as a modern-day “prophet, seer, and revelator.” The current president is Thomas S. Monson.
Elder Howarth and Sister Toni are full-time volunteers, retired and on leave from their home in Utah. They are finishing up their six-month tenure at the Johnson Home, then they will return to Kirtland, which is the headquarters for Mormon historic sites (receiving three to four times as many visitors as the Johnson Home). Howarth comes from a background as president and CEO of a large home care nursing agency in Utah by the name of Community Nursing Services. He also served on national boards regarding hospice and healthcare, and served on the Community Health Accreditation Program.
Elder Bahr and his wife are just starting their six-month term as directors of the Home. Bahr took a sabbatical from his teaching position at Brigham Young University, where he teaches future educators how to instruct math. Sister Kim is a pre-school and special education teacher, and was a state finalist as math/science teacher of the year. Together as Rotarians, they plan to work in the James A. Garfield Schools along with Superintendent Ted Lysiak, leading teacher seminars and helping students in math. Bahr has had 15 academic articles published in education and math journals. He expects a new article about teaching 5-year-olds how to engage in mathematical discussions, co-written by both of the Bahrs, to be published soon in Teaching Children Mathematics.
From a historic standpoint, the Johnson Home was built in 1828 by pioneers John and Emma Johnson, who bought 100 acres (at $3 per acre) along both sides of Pioneer Trail in 1818. Along with their 10 children, they initially settled across the road and lived in a log cabin. They grew apples and corn, and raised dairy cattle, selling cheese throughout the Western Reserve and shipping it up the Ohio & Erie Canal to buyers in New York. The large house features rough-hewn beams, a summer kitchen with running water, a formal kitchen with a wall-length fireplace and an oven big enough for 18 loaves of bread, six fireplaces throughout the house, 10 bedrooms, a temperature-controlled basement with two-foot-thick-walls, and colorful paint schemes. In 1833, the Johnsons sold their home to the Stevens family, which held it for four generations, until the LDS church bought it in 1956 as a church historic site.
Five years were spent restoring the Johnson Home (1996-2001), bringing it back to a historically-authentic rendition of itself in 1828, when it was first built. It is reported that 85% of the structure of the house is original, and all the furnishings are period correct, from the paint scheme to the furniture and linens.
When taking the guided tour, visitors learn that each room of the house holds significance in LDS tradition. The dining room is where the Book of Mormon was first read by the Johnsons; where they were converted. One hundred souls in Hiram are said to have converted to Mormonism as a result.
In the formal parlor is a trundle bed where Joseph Smith, his wife Emma and their twins, Baby Joseph and Julia, were settling down for the night in March 1832. This is when “an angry mob of 30 drunk men” pulled Smith from the room and out of the house, intent on murdering him. They tarred and feathered him and tried to put a vial of nitric acid poison down his throat, but the bottle broke on Smith’s teeth, and the mob ran off before finishing the job.
Then upstairs, beyond the bedrooms and looming room, is the “Revelation Room,” where Smith and his assistant Sidney Rigdon shared a vision in which they reportedly conversed with Jesus and father God for “multiple hours.” This is also the room where Smith was working on a “translation” of the King James Version of the Bible, which is explained less as a translation and more as a prayerful edit. Of all of Smith’s 30 recorded revelations, nearly half were received in Ohio, 17 of them in Hiram. Many oft-quoted Mormon scriptures were first penned here.
According to the LDS Church History, “During the year Joseph Smith stayed here, the Johnson home served as headquarters of the Church. Joseph received an outpouring of revelation within these walls, including a magnificent vision of the Father and the Son and the three degrees of glory. Several conferences were also held here. In November 1831, the conference voted to publish a Book of Commandments containing revelations received by the Prophet. The Lord confirmed His approval of this book, which eventually became the Doctrine and Covenants.”
So, whether you’re a believer, a history buff or a curious citizen, the Historic Johnson Home is a place of significance. To find out for yourself, stop by at 6203 Pioneer Trail or call 330-569-3374 to schedule a tour. Admission is free.