This house was built for Captain James Johnson circa 1860.
It was built by Powhatan Baird and Levi Ruggles, as were several other homes in the area. James Johnson worked as a steamboat captain and supposedly drew inspiration for his home from the magnificent antebellum mansions he saw in Natchez, Mississippi. He wanted to build his own version on a bluff along the Mississippi River. He created the tower so that he could view the approach of the steamboats. The massive mirror in the main hallway was brought to the home from the Peck Mansion in the Vandeventer neighborhood of St. Louis. It is 14 ft. 6 in tall and 8 feet wide. It is inlaid with tulip wood and gold leaf. The mirror, along with the ornate ceiling moldings, are some of the unique features of this house. The chandelier in the main hallway came from the Visitation Academy of St. Louis. It was brought to the house by Mrs. Theodosia Stark in 1945. 1
James Johnson was born in Kentucky on May 1, 1813. He lived there until he was five years old. At that time he came to Pike County with his father. He was a steamboat captain and part owner of the Northern Line Packet Co.
James Johnson died on March 30, 1861 after a brief illness. was well-respected in this community, as is evidenced by his obituary in the Louisiana Press Journal:
” Captain Johnson was one of our leading citizens, and was much respected and esteemed by everyone who knew him. He was a man of sound mind and practical sense, and by dint of perseverance and honest endeavors, accumulated a very handsome property. But while he was a far seeing persevering man, which brought him into notice, and gave him prominence in the business and commercial world, he was in every sense of the word a high-toned, whole-souled gentleman, noble-hearted and generous, full of life and vivacity, he drew to him with indissoluble chord, a host of friends who will not cease to revere his memory. For many years he has been a commander of some one of the fine steamers belonging to the St. Louis and Keokuk packet line; and the popularity and prosperity of the line, was in a great measure indebted to the business capacity and urbanity of manners brought to it by him, and others like him.
As a husband and a father, it is said few if any excelled him. But we need draw no panegyric of his worth; the grief of his family and servants, the cortege that followed his remains to the tomb, the general expression of sadness at his death, all well attest in what estimation he was held. He was a member of the order of Odd Fellows, and his remains were followed to the grave by the members of that order.
The dark winged messenger of death has shrouded in gloom a happy household, and cast its dark mantle over a whole city; proving how wonderfully unscrutible are the ways of providence, and admonishing the living of the mutability of all earthly hopes and prospects; and warning us of how soon we may have to launch upon that dark river, which leads to that bourne from whence no traveler returns.” 2