News Page


History Book

In the 1930s, a federal program during the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, appointed people to conduct oral history interviews across the country.

In Paynesville, Clarence Chisholm conducted over 100 interviews with local citizens. These selections from those interviews were printed throughout 2000 in The Paynesville Press.

Copies of the interviews were provided by the Paynesville Area Historical Society.


Voices of the Past - Isac Johnson

Isac D. Johnson was born on Sept. 1, 1831, in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. He lived the early part of his life in the eastern states. It was there he learned the shoemaker trade which he followed until moving to Volney, Allamakee County, Iowa, on March 17, 1868. In Iowa, he went into the farming business. He lived in Iowa for 14 years and moved in 1882 to Stearns County, Minnesota, where he continued farming.

In 1857, in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, Isac married Mary Cowell. Mary was born in 1841 in Liverpool, England. She came to America with her parents when she was a small child. They settled in the east. One of her sisters was named Ocean Annie because she was born on the boat coming over from England. The captain of the boat offered her parents the sum of $5,000 for Ocean Annie, because she was the first child to be born on a boat during any of his voyages.

Isac and Mary had four sons and one daughter: Charles, Homer, Wallace, William, and Viney.

Charles was born on Nov. 5, 1858, at Hampstead, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. He came to Iowa with his parents and took up farming, a business he followed all his life.

Charles married Angeline Halsey. They had two children, Harry and Roy. Charles died Jan. 6, 1937, at his farm in Franklin Township, Iowa.

Homer was born in 1869 in Iowa. He was 17 years old at the time of his death in 1888. He is buried in the family lot at the Paynesville Cemetery.

William was the youngest son of Isac and Mary. He was born Dec. 17, 1871, at Volney, Iowa. He lived at home with his parents in Paynesville until their death. He married Levina Enfield, widow of John C. Enfield, in 1925. She had four children by her first marriage, Gene, Elmer, Bessie, Eva. Eva married Charles Liestman of Paynesville and they had two children: Russel and Alice (Knese).

Viney, the only daughter of Isac and Mary was born in 1861 in New Hampshire. She married Charles Rose and they lived in Iowa. They had seven children.

Wallace was born March 15, 1864, in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. He moved with his parents to Iowa and came to Paynesville with them also.

When the Johnson family made the trip to Minnesota, they came in two covered wagons to Richmond. At Richmond, Daniel Chisholm took them Paynesville where they rented a farm. At that time, land sold from $4 to $5 an acre.

Wallace helped carry the mail from Paynesville to St. Cloud for several years. The mail route was known as the Bates route. He also carried the mail over the route to Atwater for a time. His general occupation, however, was farming.

Then when the railroads were built, Wallace helped on the Great Northern from Cold Spring to Richmond. The next year, he was employed on the Soo Line. He worked on this job three summers until the grade reach Oakes, North Dakota.

The Soo Line and the Great Northern railroads had a race to see which road would get to the crossing first. The one that got there first had the right-of-way. The land where they had to cross each other was very swampy and it was hard to get much accomplishd with teams. The Soo Line foreman came to Paynesville and hired all the men that were available. The ground was so soft that it was necessary to use hay knives to cut the ground into chunks large enough for one man to carry. All this work was done at night. Whenever a team from their opponents' side would get in the road, they would strike at it with shovels to keep it out of their way. They built over 100 feet of road bed on one night and gained possession of the right-of-way.

While Wallace was in North Dakota on a visit, he met Flora Wrisley. They left North Dakota and went to Prairie du Cheine, Wisc., where they were married on Nov. 22, 1898, by James A. Curren, county judge.

Flora had been born in Vermont in 1873. Her father moved to North Dakota and Flora kept house for him until she met Wallace.

After they were married, Wallace and Flora went to Iowa where he obtained work in a sawmill. He worked there for seven years, and then was called back to Paynesville when his father was seriously ill.

There were two children born to Wallace and Flora in Iowa: George who married Mary McLaughlin; and Mary Jane who married Arthur McLaughlin. Three more children were born to them in Paynesville: Walter, Edward, and Alice.

Alice was born Aug. 15, 1911. She married Ernest Schoultz, son of William and Teresa (Guptill) Schoultz of Paynesville, on April 1, 1929. They had four children: Louis, Leroy, Fredric, and Bernice.

Flora Johnson died Jan. 19, 1912, at the age of 39. She was laid to rest in the Paynesville Cemetery.

On Aug. 12, 1931, Wallace married his second wife, Emmede (Simar) Brown, widow of Leslie E. Brown of Paynesville. She had two sons by her first marriage: Harold born on June 5, 1911, and Howard born on Aug. 26, 1914.

Isac died at his home in Paynesville on June 9, 1905, at the age of 75. He was laid to rest in the family lot in the Paynesville Cemetery. Mary died on June 12, 1926, at the age of 86. She was buried in the Paynesville Cemetery beside her husband and son, Homer.

Return Voice of the Past main page