The Johnson-Nielson House at 351 N Main Street in Ephraim, Utah.
The Johnson /Nielson house, built in about 1895, is one of several distinctive
Queen Anne brick houses to be constructed in Ephraim, Sanpete County, Utah, during the late 19th century. ( other significant Queen Anne examples are the Larsen-Noyes house and the Dorius-Olsen house) These houses are significant because they represent, first, a dramatic shift in architectural thinking away from the rigid symmetry of earlier vernacular designs, including types transplanted from Scandinavia, and second, the emergence of a local elite who capitalized upon the expanding livestock industry of the 1880s and 1890s. This house was built by Soren Johnson, a Danish contractor who also ran the Union Hotel in Ephraim. Louis B. Nielson purchased the house in 1905 and from here managed one of Sanpete County’s most successful livestock businesses. Nielson raised quality Rambouillet sheep and developed a valuable fine stapled, long fiber, crinkled wool.
The town of Ephraim in Sanpete County was settled in 1853 by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, as part of the
larger colonization of the Great Basin region during the second half of the
nineteenth century. Like most other early Utah towns, Ephraim 1 s economy was based upon a rather limited subsistence-oriented agricultural system. Typical farm homes of the pioneer period were generally fashioned around a small number of vernacular house types which were outwardly symmetrical in design. This traditional architectural aesthetic, imported into Utah from the eastern U.S., prevailed in Sanpete County until the closing decades of the century when newly introduced Victorian styles conspired with an emerging lucrative livestock industry to dramatically change the architectural complexion of the area. After 1870 factors such as a favorable climate, the availability of open range land, and the accessibility of eastern markets over the newly completed transcontinental railroad, led to the rapid expansion of sheep ranching in Utah. in Sanpete County, many local businesses flourished in the wake of the livestock boom. New homes erected during this period followed the Victorian stylistic preferences for visual complexity and asymmetry with the Queen Anne and Eastlake styles being particularly popular. Soren Johnson’s Union Hotel profited from the flush times and in 1895 he built a fine new Queen Anne home which reflected the changing architectural tastes of the Ephraim community.
Soren J. Johnson, the original owner of the home, was born in Copenhagen,
Denmark in 1860. He emigrated to Minnesota as a boy of 14 and later, probably in the 1870s, arrived in the Danish-Mormon colony of Ephraim. Here he was befriended by Anthon Lund, a local church leader who later became one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lund was responsible for converting Johnson to the Latter-day Saint faith. In the 1880s, Johnson married Anna Sophie Dorius, the daughter of one of Ephraim’s leading citizens, C.C.N Dorius. Johnson was a painter and house builder by trade, but also served as manager for Anthon Lund’s furniture business and later was owner-proprietor of Ephriam’s Union Hotel. In the early 1890s, the large Queen Anne brick house on the north side of town was designed and constructed by Johnson himself. The house was completed in about 1895. However, by 1900, Johnson’s main activities were centered around the prosperous Union Hotel, so he moved his family into residence there and rented out the house.
In 1905, Johnson was becoming increasingly worried about the worldly influence of hotel living on his religious family. The rapidly expanding Sanpete livestock industry was drawing considerable outside attention and the Union Hotel was becoming the Ephraim home for many non-Mormon traveling salesmen, drummers, and businessmen. Johnson concluded that a hotel was not the place to instill the proper values in his growing family, so in 1905 he sold both the business and his house and moved to Salt Lake City. In the capitol city he became a successful developer-contractor-builder and is perhaps best known for his work on the Capitol Hill Ward for the LDS Church.
When Johnson moved north in 1905, he sold his fine brick home to Louis B. and Ann Nielson for $1,000. Prior to purchasing this home the Nielsons lived in a two room house that was formerly a chicken coop. They then moved to Second Pigeon Hollow, where they lived in an adobe house supposedly built by Willy Larsen. Four sons were born there.
Louis B. Nielson raised quality Rambouillet sheep, which proved to be of
primary importance to the rapidly expanding agricultural base of Sanpete
County. The county would eventually became a Rambouillet breeding capitol of the sheep world. In 1897 W. S. Hansen and John H. Seeley purchased pure-bred Rambouillet sheep from France (see John H. Seeley House) In 1907 Mr. Nielson purchased 100 head of these, of which “Old Wood” was one who made the Nielson Sheep Company famous. The ram weighed 350 Ibs. and sheared 42 Ibs. of wool for two years in succession, probably the world’s champion wool producer. Through selective breeding Mr. Nielson developed a fine stapled, long fibre, crinkled wool. He shipped lambs to Nebraska and Missouri, receiving gold as a portion of the payment. Mr. Nielson owned about 1,000 acres of land on the west side of the valley, in addition to extensive grazing permits in the East Mountains. He had about 1,000 head of Rambouillet sheep.
Mr. Nielson, David Madsen and A. C. Anderson devised a plan to excavate a
ditch on the East Mountain. They followed a survey along the “Low Pass” to
bring needed water to Ephraim and the valley farms. Months were spent on the project. A similar plan, in a similar location, was later adapted by Ephraim City to increase the water supply. The old ditch is still visible.
Glen J. Nielson, and his wife Virginia purchased this home from the Louis B.
Neilson estate on January 24, 1938. Glen is the fifth child, and the first
one born in this home. He was a pioneer in the now prominent turkey raising industry. His were the first “broad-breasted Mammoth bronze” turkeys. He was successful in this venture. He also had an outstanding herd of Rambouillet sheep. He pioneered the huge, white Charolais industry in Ephraim, and received national awards on his heifers, after following selective breeding procedures. He owned several farms in Sanpete where he ran his turkeys, cattle, and sheep.
Glen Nielson served in various positions in the city, including a term on the
City Council, and was a counselor and then Bishop in the Ephraim West Ward. The present chapel was constructed under his jurisdiction. Following his release as Bishop he was sustained as a Patriarch in the South Sanpete Stake.
The Johnson-Nielson house, built about 1895, is one of several distinctive Queen Anne houses constructed in Ephraim during the late nineteenth century. Soren Johnson, the original owner, was born in Denmark in 1860. A painter and house builder, Johnson designed and constructed this house himself. In 1905 he sold it to Louis B. and Ann Nielson, prosperous Ramouillet sheep raisers. Their son, Glen J., and his wife Virginia, purchased the house in 1938. They continued in the Ramouillet and agriculture industry. He pioneered the broad-breasted mammoth bronze turkey and charolais cattle industry in Ephraim.