Johnson Mansion late 1800's.

Old Photo Of The Mansion On Tellico River. 
The Photo was Printed From A Glass Negative From The Late 1800's.

A History of the Mansion On Tellico River

   The Mansion overlooks the old trail used by the early Carolina explorers and Indian traders who were among the first Englishmen to visit the Tennessee country. Eleazer Wigon, an Indian trader from Charleston, South Carolina, came this way as early as 1711. Governor Middleton of South Carolina sent Colonel George Chicken on a mission, to the Overhill Cherokee Indians in 1725. Colonel Chicken records in his journal for July 25th of that year, "About three in the afternoon we arrived at Great Telliquah over the hills where we was met by two head men of the said town (the rest being all out hunting). We traveled this day about 23 miles in a very bad road so that we were obliged to walk for several miles over the hills."

   The Indian town of Great Telliquah was located a half mile down river from present Tellico Plains. It was the metropolis of the Cherokee Indians and of great importance in Colonial and early Tennessee history. One of its chiefs, Moytoy, was designated Emperor of the Cherokee tribe by Sir Alexander Cuming in 1730 just before Sir Alexander sailed for England with five Cherokee envoys who signed a treaty of friendship with King George II. Great Telliquah was, for a time, (around 1745), the residence of Christian Priber, a German socialist, possibly employed by the French as an agent or spy, who attempted to form a utopian "Kingdom of Paradise" among the Cherokees. Priber's influence may have had something to do with the Fort Loudoun massacre in which twenty eight South Carolina soldiers were killed at Cane Creek about two miles south of Tellico Plains on August 10, 1760, immediately following the surrender of Fort Loudoun.

   After the American Revolution, John Sevier, Tennessee's first governor, passed through Great Telliquah several times on his expedition of 1788 against the Middle Cherokee towns, He built a temporary log fortification, probably just above the large spring on the Mansion property.

   The Cherokee Treaties of 1817 and 1819, known as the "Hiwassee Purchase", which moved the boundary of the Cherokee Nation south to the Hiwassee River, opened Great Telliquah and its surrounding country to white settlement.

   The land on which the Mansion is located seems first to have been granted to Ruth Harland, granddaughter of Nancy Ward. In 1824 James Bradley and Michel Carroll bought the property and erected a small iron furnace across the river from the Mansion. Later this enterprise became known as the Tellico Iron Company.

Elisha Johnson built the Tellico River Mansion.

Elisha Johnson

   A strange serious of events brought the attention of Elisha Johnson, born in Vermont in 1785, educated as an engineer and one time Mayor of Rochester, New York; to the Tellico Iron Company. His son, Mortimer Johnson, had killed a man in a duel in Rochester and since this was the equivalent of murder under New York law, Mortimer left for point's south, not stopping until he reached Florida. We do not know what odd incident of fate brought Mortimer Johnson from Florida to Tellico Plains but he appeared there about 1845 and was immediately impressed with the possibilities of expanding the local iron industry. He wrote his father. Elisha Johnson about the Tellico Iron Company and Elisha, probably not happy in Rochester following his sons' disastrous duel, came to Tellico Plains, purchased the Iron Company and with the help of his brother, Ebenezer Johnson, and his son, Mortimer, increased the capital of the new Tellico Iron and Manufacturing Company to $100,000.00, enlarged the furnace and acquired some 30,000 acres of ore and timberland. This enterprise flourished for some fifteen years or until the beginning of the Civil War. Judging by the number offered as made at the Johnson Foundry, one of their principal products must have been iron laundry kettles of various shapes and sizes. Like many other substantial Tennesseans of their time, the Johnson's operated a distillery that turned out corn whiskey, presumably of good quality and almost certainly in a legal and licensed way.

   Elisha Johnson decided to move his family to Tellico Plains and started construction of the Mansion in 1846, as soon as the purchase of the foundry had been completed. The site chosen for the house was where a large spring entered the Tellico River almost directly across, though slightly upstream from the furnace. It is readily apparent that the Mansion was the work of an engineer and not an architect. The 56 to 72 glass panes for each of the windows on the ground floor were brought from Baltimore, by wagon. The heavy cornices in the living and dining rooms came from France, where Elisha's daughter, Mary Johnson, had lived for several years. We do not know who, at the Mansion, wanted all of the exits or escape routes but someone must have, for not only do the first floor windows open quickly and completely like doors but there are three double wooden ladder fire escapes from the second floor and it is persistently rumored there was an underground tunnel, now caved in, that ran from beneath the house to the spring . (They tried to locate this secret passage by making an opening through the upper tier of the spring wall but, are not sure that this was its original location).

   A large family of Johnson's lived at the Mansion between 1846 and 1864. Elisha and his wife occupied the downstairs bedroom, a daughter, Mary Johnson the small upstairs room nearest the river. Mortimer and his wife, the room, in the opposite corner, with a stairway to the attic, which was another of the escape passages. A son, born to Mortimer Jobnson at the Mansion was named, Tellico Johnson.

   The Civil War brought real trouble for the Johnson's and their foundry. The Confederate Government took over the iron works for the manufacture of ordnance. A Colonel Latrobe of Maryland w as placed in charge to see that these Yankees turned out the war materials the Confederate Army needed so desperately. After the battle of Missionary Ridge in the late fall of 1863, General Sherman marched several Union divisions through lower East Tennessee to the relief of General Burnside's force, which was under siege by Confederate General Longstreet in Knoxville. Longstreet retired as Sherman approached but while in Knoxville General Sherman heard of the iron works the Confederates were using at Tellico Plains. Also that a Confederate supply train had escaped through the mountains toward Murphy, North Carolina Sherman ordered his Main, force to return from Knoxville to Chattanooga, in preparation for the Atlanta campaign; which continued as the "March to the Sea", but detached General Morgan Smith division, which he accompanied to Tellico Plains on December 10th and llth, 1863. Generals Sherman and Smith spent the nights of December 10th and llth, 1861 at the Mansion while Colonel Long led a cavalry regiment in unsuccessful pursuit of the wagon train which had joined stronger Confederate forces beyond Murphy. While at the Mansion, General Sherman presided at a trial regarding the part, taken by the Johnson's in the operation of their iron plant for the benefit. of the Confederacy but acquitted them because of their northern birth and sympathies. Tradition has it that the Johnsons served quite a feast to General Sherman in the dining room of the Mansion following their acquital. but this did not pre vent the General's practiced eye from seeing that his soldiers demolished the Tellico Iron Works so effectively that it has never been rebuilt. Sherman left Tellico Plains on December 12th for Chattanooga, by way of Athens.

   The Johnson's did not remain at the Mansion long after the destruction of their foundry. Elisha Johnson returned north in 1864, settling this time at Ithaca, New York, and the rest of the family soon followed or at least left Tellico Plains.

   The Mansion seems to have been unccupied and neglected during the unsettled reconstruction years that followed the Civil War. About 1877 Colonel W. A. Hoskins of Chattanooga organized a company that purchased the dormant Tellico Iron and Manufacturing Company and the Mansion was included with this property. Colonel Hoskins company could not revive the iron industry at Tellico but did operate the Mansion as a summer hotel or boarding house, which was quite popular with residents of the town's farther west in the Tennessee Valley.

   The Hoskins Company sold the former Tellico Iron Company to an English syndicate in or about 1900. The probable instigator of this deal was Cyril F. Herford, an adventurous young Englishman, who, like Mortimer Johnson, had come to Tellico Plains by way of a cattle ranch in Florida but young Herford was seeking economic opportunity and not escaping anything. The English firm was called the Tellico Slate and Iron Company, which as time went on, carried on more of a real estate than manufacturing business. A second Englishman, Charles Swainson, was associated with Herford in the Tellico Company and these two, in their more than thirty years together at Tellico Plains, had much to do with the development of the town and surrounding region.

Francis Herford, daughter of Cyril F. Herford.

Francis Herford....Circa 1920's.

   Mr. Herford married Sarah Dismukes of Fayetteville, Tennessee, and they acquired the Mansion about 1901 and lived there for nearly half a century, until 1949. Here they raised their two daughters, the present Mrs. Marion Carson of Athens, Tennessee, and Mrs. W. W. Stanley of Knoxville, Colonel Herford, as he was known in later years, and Mrs. Herford lived a pleasant and hospitable life at. The Mansion. For a time there was a tennis court on the front or western lawn and afternoon tea was their usual custom.

Afternoon tea & tennis.

The Herfords and friends at afternoon tea and tennis.

   The railroad. from Athens to Tellico Plains was built, just before the turn of the century by Robert L. Bright of Fayetteville who lived with his family at the Mansion during tbe construction of the railroad, probably from 1892 to 1894. This railroad was a major factor in attracting the large lumbering operations that dominated Tellico Plains and the, many thousands of acres of then virgin timber mountain land above and east of the town for the first quarter of the twentieth century. First came the W.C. Heyser Lumber Company of Chattanooga, sold on the idea by Herford and Swainson. The Heyser Company erected a band mill at Tellico and floated logs down the mountain streams following heavy rains. The operation was profitable until the farmers in the valleys below brought lawsuits claiming the sudden release of log booms by the lumber company caused floods never before experienced and ruined their crops. A smaller but more permanently successful operation was that of the Loomis and Scott Lumber Company, later the C. A. Scott Company, which terminated only with Mr. Scott's death.

Babcock logging days.

Virgin Timber From The Babcock Logging days.

   The giant among them all was the Babcock Lumber Company, guided by two brothers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Starting at the railhead of the Tellico railroad in 1905, they pushed their logging railway up the gorge of the Tellico River to Bald River, there constructed a high trestle over the falls and continued into the tall timber along Bald River for several miles. When the timber on Bald River was cut this remarkable railroad was continued up the Tellico to North River and so on until virtually all the drainage basin of the Tellico River was cut. Like most operations of its time it was a "cut out and get out" procedure, when the last car load of Babcock lumber was shipped from Tellico Plains in 1933 the sale of the 85,000 or more acres of what is now the "Tellico Wildlife Management Area" to the United States Forest Service had been negotiated. The Stokely Company bought the fertile plains section of the Babcock holdings and erected a vegetable canning plant that has been in continuous operation until the 1980's. It is said that when the Babcock Lumber Company left, a small part of the town of Tellico Plains went with it, and some of these same loggers returned from time to time from the Pacific Northwest, where they were engaged in similar large scale timber operations. In driving over the network of road, in the Cherokee National Forest, east of Tellico Plains, we are, for the most part, riding on the roadbed of the former Babcock logging railway.

   A number of men have dreamed dreams of vast economic empires in the Unicoi Mountains that tower over Tellico Plains. In two cases, the Johnson's iron industry and the Babcock's lumber operation these dream came true, at least for a score of years. Now the cycle seems turned the other way on the Unicoi Range, back towards old Priber's and his Cherokee friend's dream of a "Kingdom of Paradise". The Forest Service has made a fine and successful effort to return the forests and streams, together with game and fish of the Tellico country, to something approaching their condition of over 150 years ago when the white man forced the red man out. Likewise the Johnson's Mansion revives its spirit and appearance of a hundred years ago. Possibly even the Indians would feel more at home now in the Tellico back country than at most times in the past century.

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