2122 Sheep Creek Road Bedford, VA 24523

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David Hunter Strother. Virginia Illustrated:
Containing a Visit to the Virginian Canaan,
and the Adventures of Porte Crayon and His
Cousins. New York: Harper and Brothers,
1857. Barrett Library. Shown: "South Peak
of Otter, from the Hotel."
The Peaks area was established as a
farming community when Thomas Wood
first settled here in 1766. The cabin in
which he took up residence is now
referred to as The Johnson Farm. In  1
852, John Therone and Mary Elizabeth
Johnson bought the four-room cabin
and the land on Harkening Hill. Two
generations of Johnsons had lived on the mountain prior to this purchase. They were
Castleton Johnson, John T.’S father and John Johnson, his grandfather. John T and
Mary had 13 children that helped with the cash crops of cabbage, tomatoes, and
potatoes. The family garden included vegetables used by the family. They raised sheep
and operated a distillery in a nearby hollow making apple brandy from the trees on the
farm. This was sold to an early hotel, The Hotel Mons. This part of the farm would
remain in the family for three generations.
The Hotel Mons, Latin name for mountain, was applied to the hotel at an undetermined
time. The Otter Peaks Hotel, the name preceding Mons, opened its’ doors in 1857.
At this time there was only one building proper with outbuildings including a barn and a
springhouse. The hotel burned in 1870 but was promptly rebuilt. The Otter Peaks
Hotel provided food and lodging for almost 50 years and then a larger hotel was built
just west of the one rebuilt after the fire. The hotel had accommodations for 40 guests
and was a summer landmark for people coming from as far away as Maine, California,
and England. The Mons closed its’ doors in 1936. Civilian Conservation Corps
workers and other families lived in the hotel proper until the National Park Service
dismantled all of the buildings of the Mons complex sometime in the early 1940’s.
Jason Johnson, the favored son of John T. and Mary
Elizabeth, bought the farm from his parents in 1884 for $410
and 220 acres of his grandfather’s, Castleton Johnson,
from heirs. Jason brought the house to its’ present
appearance with the addition of the dining room, kitchen and
various porches and storage rooms. Jason was born with a
clubfoot but wasn’t bothered by this handicap and with his wife Mary Jane (Jennie)
Cottrell produced nine children, two of whom died before aged 10, and kept up the
tradition of being self-sufficient farmers. Trips to town were rare and only to sell their
goods and buy coffee, flour, and sugar. Jason, because of his disability, often planted
from horseback and according to a grandchild could hoe across a garden as quickly
on his knees as most people could standing. The large apple and peach orchards
flourished during this time on the terraced slopes of Flat Top Mountain. The best
quality apples were shipped to England. Others found their way into gallons of apple
butter made by the community.
After Jennie’s death, daughter Callie Missouri Johnson and
her husband Mack Bryant became the third generation to
farm the same land. They continued to run a farm that
provided for most of their needs, helped out at the hotel,
and had some small entrepreneurial ventures. Mack acted
as the local “vet”. Callie is best remembered for supplying
the Hotel Mons dining room with flowers from her garden
as well as the ones she picked from the surrounding
mountains. Mack suffered a paralyzing stroke and in 1929 the Depression began a
decline for the Johnson Farm. Soon the farm and most of the Mons community made
way for the coming of the Blue Ridge Parkway. After the Blue Ridge Parkway
acquired the Peaks of Otter, the last family members sold the farm to the Peaks of
Otter Company and then it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1941.
Sometime in the 1950’s steps were taken to stabilize the house, barn, smokehouse,
and springhouse. Other buildings were destroyed. In 1968 the house was stripped
back to its original log structure and reworked to approximate its’ appearance when
it was a log cabin. In 1974 the restoration of the house to its’ 1920’s/30’s condition
was completed and the interpretation of the farm was begun.
The second child and first son born to Jason and
Jennie was Robert Lee Johnson. He was about 10
years of age when they moved into the Johnson
Farm. As a young man he moved down the mountain
to the Sheep Creek area where he continued to farm and planted an
orchard. He also had a small grocery store in Ewing’s gristmill. He
planted tomatoes and built a canning factory on Sheep Creek. He
married Rowena Gross and they had seven children.
The second child and first boy was James Elmo
Johnson. He went to Reba School and New
Prospect church, which was within walking
distance. He once said you could hear the singing from the church I
n the summer time. His grandparents, Jason and Jennie Johnson
were still living and also attended New Prospect church. His
mother died, in childbirth, when Elmo was 12 years old. Much
responsibility for the economic welfare of the family fell onto young
Elmo’s shoulders. He worked in the fields, orchards and in the mill where he ground
grains for flour and sold the stock of merchandise to customers. His father, Robert,
got Aunt Millie Johnson, who never married, to come and stay with the children; the
youngest, Hampton, was only two years old. Robert would allow Elmo and his sister,
Irene, who was two years older, to walk to spend the weekend with their
grandparents, Jason and Jennie, on the mountain.
Elmo continued to work with his father from childhood until he
was a young adult. In 1917 he married Sarah Freddie Welch
and they had four children. In 1918 he along with his father
bought the farm, just a little further down Sheep Creek, now
known as Johnson’s Orchards and Peaks of Otter Winery.
The first apple tree was planted in 1919. Elmo bought his
father’s interest in the farm shortly after the original purchase.
Some of the plantings for the trees were brought from those
originally at the Johnson Farm. Among the varieties that had
existed there were: Yellow Transparent, Cannon, Bullskin,


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