Alex and Mary Alice Johnson House
The Alex and Mary Alice Johnson House is located at the corner of Main Street and Hale Street in Grantsville. It is a one-and-one-half story brick home in the Queen Anne style built in 1900. The plan of the main floor gives the impression of a cross-wing house with a square tower at the intersection of the wings. However, more substantial than a typical cross-wing, it may also be considered a modified central-block with projecting bays. The house is on a one-half acre property with three outbuildings that retain their historic integrity but do not contribute to the historic significance of the house.
The house sits on a coursed rubble foundation. The masonry consists of two types of brick. It is faced with a fired red brick and lined with adobe. The courses are laid in a running bond with 4″ projections at the corners of the octagonal bays. The lintels, sills, and water table are of sandstone. The main floor fenestration is a combination of large fixed sash windows with transoms and smaller double-hung windows. There are paired double-hung windows in each of the four gable ends and the two small dormers. The tower has round arched windows, brick voussoirs, and decorative brick-work at the imposts. The tower’s pyramidal roof is capped with a metal finial.
Probably the most striking part of the house is the decorative woodwork, which according to one source, has always been painted white. 1 The gable trim includes octagonal shingling with lozenge patternwork in the peak. Engaged pilasters with bracket “capitals” flank the windows. Similar details occur on the dormers. Dentils are found on the main cornice completely surrounding the house, as well as on the tower cornice. Corner brackets with lathe-turned spools and spindles occur at either side of the bays. The north and east porches are particularly elaborate. Each consists of lathe-turned columns and console brackets which support a spool and spindle frieze. Other decorative elements on the porches include dentils, fan-shaped brackets, pendants, and paterae. Scroll-cut woodwork is found on the balustrades and the base enclosure.
The principle elevations of the building have remained virtually unaltered since its construction. Minor alterations have been made to the rear, or south elevation, and concrete steps have been added to the east porch. A porch which spanned the length of the rear elevation was enclosed probably within a decade of the original construction. The east half of the porch was screened and the west half was fully enclosed to form a room. A doorway was cut from the main house to this room. In the 1950s, both the room and the screened porch were removed. They were replaced by a concrete porch supported by simple metal columns. Two other changes occurred in 1993: the cellar stair enclosure on the west elevation was repaired and the mid-century asphalt roof was replaced with wood shingles.
The interior of the house consists of several large well-lighted rooms with eleven-foot high ceilings. A small entrance foyer is at the base of the tower and contains separate doors to the dining room and parlor. The two rooms are also connected by a set of double doors. A large kitchen runs the east length of the house, with an enclosed staircase parallel to it. A second set of cellar stairs is found under the main staircase. The west side is separated into two smaller rooms: one was probably used as a bedroom, while the other was the family bathroom (the house was reportedly one of the first to have indoor plumbing in Grantsville). On the second floor there are four bedrooms, a nursery and a small office in the tower. The attic can be accessed from a trap door near the stairs.
Except for some changes in wallpaper and paint, the interior is in good historic condition. Some woodwork has been painted, however, most of the panelled doors, window casings, and other
woodwork are stained and varnished. With one exception, both interior and exterior doors have working hopper transoms and all original hardware. Decorative elements at the doors and windows include corner blocks and paterae. Most of the glass appears to be original.
The house has a full fireplace in the parlor and stove-pipe flues in the kitchen and main floor bedroom. The parlor boasts a tall mirrored mantel with Ionic columns and a carved festoon/wreath. The interior is remarkably well-preserved. In the 1950s the kitchen was partitioned to create a laundry room and new appliances were added. There was also some work done to the kitchen in the 1970s. However, the original wainscotting is still visible on two sides of the room and only the lattice at the top of the partition seems out of period. The bathroom also contains fixtures from the 1950s remodel and includes the blocked door to the missing back room. Other than paint, wallpaper and new flooring, the second floor has seen little modification since a second bathroom was added in the 1950s. The house is still heated by its original boiler and radiators.
The site has three outbuildings which were used by the original household. The small pumphouse at the rear most likely dates to the original construction and supplied water to the house. A small chicken pen has been added to the pumphouse. In the southwest corner of the property sits a large framed three-car garage, built sometime after 1910. The garage also includes a room originally used as an icehouse. A two-story frame summerhouse sits west of the house, and was probably built after the garage (around 1915-1920). The main floor of this building served as a laundry and the upper floor was used for bedrooms. This building has been partially covered with aluminum siding and is currently rented as a residence. An L-shaped asphalt driveway covers a large portion of the property, but the remainder consists of trees, lawns, and flower beds. A rock garden and fountain have been built near the east porch. Sidewalks run from the perimeter to the north and east porches. The property has a combination of picket, post, and chain-link fences.
The Alex and Mary Alice Johnson House, built in 1900, is an excellent example of the Victorian Queen Anne style. This style of architecture documents an important period of growth in Utah. The design, though executed by a local builder influenced by pattern-books, combines a remarkable unity of composition with elaborate decoration. With its prominent position on Main Street, the Johnson House is one of the most distinctive architectural landmarks of Grantsville. Both the exterior and interior details of the home have been extraordinarily well-preserved. The house meets National Register Criterion C in the area of Architecture as the most outstanding example of a Queen Anne house in the community.
Alexander Johnson began construction on the home in 1899, just after his marriage to Mary Alice Anderson. Both were natives of Grantsville, born in 1870 and 1878 respectively. His parents were Charles Johnson and Charlotte Erickson, Swedish immigrants to Grantsville in 1863. Her parents were John Anderson and Mary Ann Clark. Alex and May built their house on the property was just south and across Main Street from the Deseret Mercantile (Johnson Hall) built in 1898, where Alex was engaged in the family business with his father and brothers. During his lifetime Alex also raised sheep, cattle, and horses. A successful businessman, he served as the director of the Grantsville Deseret Bank. He and his wife Alice were both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and served the community in both church and civic positions.
The builder of the Johnson House was Charles Zephaniah Shaffer. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1842, listed as a carpenter in the 1900 business gazetteer, and died in 1904. Shaffer also constructed a Queen Anne home at 5 North Center Street. It is not known whether he was responsible for other Queen Anne homes in the Grantsville area. 2 The Johnson house contains all the characteristics of the style: an asymmetrical plan and façade, a variety of materials and textures, decorative shingling and brick, elaborate woodwork, and a tower.
Great care was taken in the construction of the house. According to Mildred J. Conway, a
daughter of Alex and Mary Alice, each red brick, imported from California, came individually
wrapped in paper. When completed in 1900 at a cost of $4,500, the home was one of the most elegant and modern (with its indoor plumbing) in the community. The ornate mantelpiece cost $75.
Alex and Mary Alice Johnson raised ten children in the home. In addition, they also took in Alex’s three nephews and a niece, who had been orphaned. The already spacious home was augmented by the building of the summerhouse, c.1920. The three-car garage was reportedly built for the four Model-T Fords the Johnsons acquired to transport their large family. Alex’s mother also lived with them and a room was built on the back porch for her. The home was literally at the center of community life in Grantsville. From his office at home in the second floor tower, Alex could view his mercantile business just across the street, known as Johnson Hall, and also used as at various times as the town’s bank, post office, and dance hall.
During the depression, with most of their children grown, Alex and Mary Alice took in boarders. Throughout the thirties and forties, the house was called the Lone Pine Tourist Home after the large pine tree in the front yard. Its distinctive architecture, its proximity to the Lincoln Highway, and a scarcity of housing near the Tooele Army Depot insured the lodge never lacked tenants.
Alex died in 1943 and Mary Alice in 1952. The Johnson’s daughter, Mildred J. Conway, moved into the house after her mother died. The few alterations which have made to the house were done while Mildred was the owner. She lived in the house until 1989 and died in 1991. In November of 1989, the house was sold to Grantsville natives, Gary and Janet Fawson. The Fawsons only lived in the house one month before moving to California. It was then used as a rental property. It was sold to Francis and Betty Menalis in October 1992. Betty had seen the house several years earlier and was determined to purchase it if ever it became available. She and her husband are committed to preserving and restoring the original appearance of the house, including re-roofing the house in 1993 with wood shingles. Betty has also been able to purchase some of the original furnishings and return them to the house.
Despite its use as a boarding house and a rental property, the Alex and Mary Alice Johnson house is in excellent condition and retains its historic integrity. This is due in part to its remaining in the same family for eighty-nine years, as well as the appreciation of subsequent owners of the artistic value of the architecture.
The Victorian Queen Anne style is reflective of changes that occurred in Utah near the turn of the century. The architecture in Utah was founded in American building traditions and the early builders had been, for the most part, isolated from the secular influences of much of the country and used established methods brought with them from their homes of origin. As Utah grew and became more integrated with non-Mormons, the architectural styles that were made popular through pattern books were readily available to Utah builders. The building boom of the 1880s and 1890s corresponded with the growth of the non-Mormon population in Utah and brought with it the opportunity to bring in new building traditions such as those published in the style books, popular in Utah during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With the introduction of plan books, “the former isolation of rural areas was no longer an obstacle to building due to the widespread dissemination of information and building materials.” Plan book Victorian stylistic features were based upon the use of multiple forms and elements and were probably influential in building the uniquely stylized, eclectic, Alex and Mary Johnson residence. The Queen Anne style is one of the most picturesque of the late-nineteenth-century styles and became the most popular style of the period in America. It was popular in Utah between 1885-1905.