Worthington News

Historical society to celebrate life of Orange Johnson


The 200th anniversary of Orange Johnson's arrival in Worthington will be celebrated this Sunday, Aug. 24, at the house that bears his name.

The Orange Johnson House, 956 High St., will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. that day and will feature a master horner demonstrating the craft that made Johnson a rich man.

Carl Dumke, a master horner with the Honourable Company of Horners, will show visitors the craft of hornsmithing in honor of the trade practiced by Johnson when he arrived in Worthington in 1814.

A combmaker by trade, Dumke made combs and other utilitarian tools out of horn.

Also, never-before-displayed letters written by Johnson will be on view at the house for this special event.

Displays will highlight the achievements of Orange Johnson throughout the house as the Worthington Historical Society, which owns the house, honors Johnson.

Born in Mansfield, Conn., Johnson trained as a hornsmith before heading west after the War of 1812 to seek his fortune.

Johnson was a young man when he moved here from New England in 1814.

Attracted by James Kilbourn's Worthington Manufacturing Co., the 24-year-old arrived in August that year with a small trunk of his combs and reportedly $16.50 in his pocket, according to the historical society's website.

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) and began purchasing cow horn for his workshop at Mechanics Square and offering his combs for sale through the company's chain of retail stores.

By mid-century, he became the wealthiest-known man in Worthington.

The grammar and spelling of Johnson's letters reveal his meager formal education, but he evidently was an astute businessman and a personable young man, according to the historical society.

In August 1815, 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 $1,500 for the 35-acre farm and six-room brick house (now known as the Orange Johnson House) built five years earlier by Arora Buttles, just north of the village line, according to the historical society.

He continued his combmaking business in a shop south of his home.

Regular admissions apply during the bicentennial celebration. Adults will be charged $5; children ages 6-16 will be admitted for $3. Members and children ages 5 and younger will be admitted for free.