Oscar Johnson Family

Oscar Johnson Family

A "Memory Lane" Presentation given by
Joan Utter and Paul Utter
during the Heritage Day Festival
at the First Baptist Church Silverhill
Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011

     I think this is ironic - a Yankee girl from MA talking about Southern Heritage! Anyway, I guess I have been here long enough! I am here to talk about Oscar Johnson, the Founder of Silverhill and the Grandfather of my husband Paul.

     I will take you back to the year 1890 when the Svea Land Colony was established in Chicago, IL. Original members of the Land company were Oscar Johnson, Olaf Johnson, John Linden, Nels Nelson, A.A. Norden, Charles Smith, F.A. Swanson, later joined by C.O,. Carlson, and J.O. Vallentin. Alter much research lasting several years, they decided that our Colony would be established in Baldwin County.

     Oscar Johnson first came South to Thorsby, AL with the intention of opening a small machine shop there. That venture fell through and he went back to Chicago. I wonder what would have happened if he had stayed there?

     In 1896, the Illinois Central Railroad offered free transportation as far South as Nashville, TN. Oscar Johnson, C.O. Carlson and J.O. Vallentin took advantage of the offer and then bought tickets to Montgomery, AL where a realtor named Scott gave them maps and literature on good Alabama agricultural lands. They looked at land in the Theodore and St. Elmo area and then headed across Mobile Bay to Battles Wharf. They considered land owned by Aaron Hartford near Fish River but since there were no roads, the land was practically impassable. They then decided on land in what is now Silverhill.

     They then returned to Chicago and started preparations for colonizing the new land. In June of 1896 deeds and abstracts were completed and recorded. Oscar Johnson started building what was the first house in Silverhill proper and located across from Peoples Supply. Just before it was finished and in the year 1897, his wife and two daughters, Elvera and Agnes together with his Grandfather, John Peter Johnson arrived in Silverhill and settled in. Oscar established his office in what is now the Silverhill Library. Speaking of his office, Paul and I have Oscar's original desk, chair, typewriter and adding machine, and if and when, we have a museum in Silverhill, we intend to house them there. We also have two original paintings of the Hotel Norden and Castle Crow, which we had commissioned sometime ago.

     Oscar first had a sawmill and turpentine still in what is now the Oscar Johnson Memorial Park. On one of his trips to South America he became sick with Malaria. He came home to recuperate and then decided to get into the Real Estate Business. He purchased a lot of land in Silverhill, and being the philanthropist that he was, in later years he gave the land for all the Churches in Silverhill, the Silverhill Cemetery and also land for the railroad that ran through Robertsdale. At that time the Railroad Station was called the Silverhill Station.

     Silverhill was incorporated in 1926 with Oscar Johnson being the first Mayor and the first councilmen were O.F.E. Winberg, John Mikulecky, Charles Norman, Charles Hoff and N.J. Nohe. Elvera Johnson Armstrong was the Clerk.

     Oscar's daughter, Agnes Utter, gave 5 acres of land to the town of Silverhill to be used as a park and is now known as the Oscar Johnson Memorial Park. When she gave it to the town she stipulated that they keep it up and if not, it would return to the owner. Well, I guess you know, there is no chance of that happening - the Town is doing a great job and have made a lot of improvements. I believe the Boy Scouts also have had a hand in this. We thank them for that and since we live across the street we see it every day.

     I have a couple "Did you Knows" to put before you. Do you know how Silverhill got its name? When Oscar had his sawmill and turpentine still his workers would say they were going up to the hill to get their silver. Everything was done in cash, hence the name Silverhill was established. Also, do you know what is unique about Highway 104? When the main street in Silverhill was laid out and then lengthened from Robertsdale to 98 it turned out to be a perfect straight line. I recently learned that during World War II airplanes would fly tree-top high over 104 to check their compasses.

     Before closing I would like to read a letter written by a friend at the time of his funeral September 15, 1929. Thank you.

In Memoriam to Oscar Johnson

     Dear Friends:—

     The road to the cemetery is sad indeed, no matter with whom we are parting. Always in the wake of the hearse are those, who are conscious of the fact, that they are about to bid their last farewell to their beloved one; even those who were not bound by ties of relationship friendship so the one who is making his last journey, are sad and depressed. Yet when we enter this domain of death made beautiful by loving hands we seem to feel that our beloved one has just left a valley of tears and that we have but attended a funeral of his sorrows.

     Every sacred place of the dead is linked to the town of the living, by unseen but strong bonds of love which death itself cannot part.

     Dear friends—we are parting today with that which was mortal of our dear friend Oscar Johnson; but immortal will remain his memory within our community circles. We are patting with the most liberal benefactor and philanthropist of all those who were in need and seeking help. We are parting with a man who devoted all the best years in his life not only to perpetuate the noble principles of mankind but we are parting with one of the most honest and upright citizens who never refused to listen to the prayer of his neighbor, rich or poor, and was ready to offer his noble services to all who knocked at his door.

     His success was our success; his happiness was our joy.

     The hand whose warm clasp we often felt is taken away; the sweet voice we listened to with all respect, is hushed forever…

     Now my good old friend Oscar Johnson, in behalf of all your friends and worshippers—I wish to extend to you our warmest and 1 undying thanks—also to bid You our last GOODBYE…

     Your Old Good Friend,

     A. J. CEJKA Silverhill, Alabama, September 15th, 1929.