701 4th Avenue, Holdrege, NE 68949 • 308-995-5020

F. Johnson Building Heritage

Excerpts from a memoir

Excerpts taken from Frank Johnson’s written history of his grandfather and grandmother, F. Johnson and Anna Johnson

Anna, born in 1854, said goodbye to her family first at the age of fifteen.  She had been fortunate to secure a job as a parlor maid in the home of a prosperous family in Moline, Illinois by the name of John Deere. Deere manufactured and marketed farm equipment and was making a  name in the new land.  

Anna landed with other immigrants at Ellis Island in New York in 1869.  Friends helped her find her way west to Moline, Illinois and shortly thereafter, she sent for  her sister, Augusta.  Frank and Anna met in southern Illinois and married in 1878.  They lived over the A.P. Johnson store in Altona.  Frank was by then the manager of the store because the owner had decided to move to California.

Their first child, Mabel, and second child Lutannies Theodore were born in Altona. 
A year later, the Burlington railroad was moving rapidly westward.  Frank’s older brother, John Brown had already been out west to Nebraska and when the Burlington reached Minden, John bought farm land there.

When the railroad was completed another twenty-eight miles to Phelps Center, Nebraska, Frank Johnson decided to move his little family to what then became Holdrege.  George W. Holdrege of Omaha was president of the Burlington and when the tracks were completed Phelps Center was changed to Holdrege in his honor and moved a few miles south to be adjacent to the railroad depot.

Frank bought lumber and shipped it on the Burlington to build the first general store in town to be known as the F. Johnson Company, and once again he settled his young family upstairs over the store in 1884.

Frank and Anna Johnson’s third child, and second daughter, Lulu was born March 17, 1885 in Holdrege.  The household began to expand.  Anna’s sister, Augusta, came from Sweeden to live with them.  She helped in the store and with some of the housework.  Beside the cooking and cleaning, everything had to be carried up the outside stairway including water from the town pump.

Augusta met and married Philip Swanson, also from Sweeden who started as a clothing salesman in the F. Johnson Store.  Subsequently, he became another boarder at Anna’s table.  F. Johnson helped the Swanson’s start a mercantile store of their own in Bertrand, Nebraska about twenty five miles west of Holdrege.

Stories from family members and newspaper articles and ads tell of Frank Johnson’s great eye for quality.  He bought only the best for his customers in fabrics, millinery, shoes and clothing as well as groceries and household goods.  He bought clothing, carpets, household furnishings from the illustrious Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago.  The F. Johnson Mercantile Store became Marshall Field’s best wholesale account in the state of Nebraska.  Small town merchants and farmers were reaching prosperity in the early 1800’s, and they invested in their homes and furnishing their home.  Persian carpets, carved walnut tables and bedsteads, velvet draperies, imported China and sterling silver cutlery were available for purchase in the F. Johnson store.

Lulu Johnson Titus, Frank Johnson’s youngest daughter told that her father was generous to a fault, perhaps because he invited customers who had traveled many miles to shop in Holdrege to his home for the noon meal, and he nearly always had a helping hand for someone in distress.  She claimed that her mother never knew if she would be serving 10 or 20 people at any meal, and she prepared for company every day. 

As they prospered, both the store and the family moved to spacious quarters, and the F. Johnson’s entertained frequently.  Anna was an excellent cook and hostess.

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