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Locals celebrate birthday of Johnson City founder Henry Johnson

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 27, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Locals dressed in 19th-century attire gathered at King Commons Saturday for Henry Johnson’s Birthday Bash, celebrating the birth of Johnson City’s founder and first mayor.

Sesquicentennial Commissioner Dianna Cantler said the era-themed celebration was “reminiscent of the time period when Johnson City was founded.”

The event featured activities popular during Johnson’s era, including hopscotch, croquet, horseshoes and arts and crafts from the period. Attendees also took part in 19th-century dance lessons on the “cakewalk” and more.

Several musicians performed, including Ed Snodderly, owner of The Down Home.

“We thought it would be really fun to have a birthday party you would have in the late 1800s,” Cantler said ahead of the event. “The goal is to celebrate as a community, but also do it in a unique way that’s fun for people of all ages.”

Cantler, who also serves as downtown development director, said Saturday’s event was not only a celebration of Johnson himself, it was a celebration of the spirit of Johnson’s entrepreneurship.

In addition to becoming the city’s first mayor in 1870 after the city was officially chartered in 1869, Johnson founded Johnson’s Depot, a major railway hub in the region.

In those days before the town’s incorporation, there was lodging for travelers, a post office and a restaurant. Johnson also built a general store in what would later become the core of the downtown district.

“Henry Johnson was an early form of an entrepreneur, and we really want to continue that entrepreneurial spirit in Johnson City,” Cantler said of Johnson’s legacy.

Dustin Lawson, 25, played Henry Johnson at the birthday bash after recently meeting some of Johnson’s descendants.

He said he enjoyed getting in character after the Sesquicentennial Commission reached out to him through the Johnson City Community Theatre.

“He started doing his own thing here before anyone else started to,” Lawson said of Johnson. “He took charge of his own ideas and made them come to life.”

Cantler said many today still embody Johnson’s hard work as the city’s founder.

“We’re a group of people that work hard, and Henry Johnson was a great example of that,” Cantler said.

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