ALEXIS L. JOHNSON
The Grand Old Man of Schuyler- a Sketch of His life
by Edgar Jackson Klock.
Ilion Citizen, Friday, November 30, 1900
Contributed by BetteJo Caldwell
Living in Dutchtown, on what is locally known as Johnson's Corner, are three people, two brothers and
a sister, whose combined ages are 260 years, Alexis L., Duane, and Lucy Johnson, all in comparatively
good health and mental vigor. With the former of this remarkable trio, who is more particularly known
to the large family of Citizen readers as "The Grand Old Man of Dutchtown," this sketch will deal.
Alexis Lockling Johnson came of good old English stock that emigrated from the county of Kent,
England, and settled near Boston in 1630; here many of the family held responsible positions in the
political and religious affairs of the colony of Massachusetts, and subsequently bore arms in the
Some time during the year 1794, one Cephus Johnson at the age of three years, came with his father
into the town of Fairfield, Herkimer county, but most of his life was spent in the town of Herkimer.
In 1802 Sophia Lockling, then eleven years of age, came into the same town with her cousin Dr. Amos
Haile. To them, Cephus Johnson and Sophia, his wife, on August 31st, 1811, was born this son, Alexis
L., the oldest of four sons and four daughters. After he was eight years of age his school advantages
were confined mostly to the winter months in the district school of Eaton's Bush. During the summer
his services were required on his father's farm and in his saw mill; but from a boy he was a most
industrious and a judicial reader, so that his school work was very materially augmented from his
father's scant library and the books and other reading matter loaned him by friends and neighbors, and
in this way a naturally investigative mind, through all the years of his life, has been stored with
valuable and interesting facts. To illustrate his bump of investigativeness --- when a young lad he
was one day wandering over the hills of Norway and came to wayside watering trough, over the side of
which someone had constructed a siphon out of a pumpkin vine through which the water was flowing. Now
he knew that water never ran up hill and with him to see was to investigate, so he lifted the outer
end of the pumpkin vine siphon and looked in to see what power or imp was pulling the water up over
the edge of the trough and to his surprise the thing was hollow and empty, but of course, when he
placed it in position again the water refused to flow. This was too much for his youthful mind and,
perhaps thinking that he had drowned the magical genie of the vine, he hastened back to the house
where he was stopping, told his story and learned his first practical lesson in pneumatics.
In the winter of 1828-9 he taught his first term of school in the Myers' district in the town of
Herkimer and in the following winter taught in the Pierce school in the town of Fairfield. During the
fall term of those two years he attended school at Fairfield academy under the tuition of David
Chassell. On Saturday, October 16, 1830 he started on horseback for the Farmer neighborhood to
announce a Universalist meeting at Eaton's Bush on the following day and incidentally to look for a
school for the coming winter. Learning that Dutchtown was in need of a teacher he rode on to that
place in the afternoon and beheld for the first time its beautiful fields, breathed it literary
atmosphere and met Peter Finster, one of the three trustees.
Finster must have been favorably impressed with the young pedagogue for he promised to see the other
two trustees at meeting on Sunday, and made an appointment with him to meet the board on the following
Monday. At this subsequent meeting he agreed to teach their school four months for his board, washing
and $11 per month of 24 days. At this time board meant "boarding around," or in other words, boarding
with each family in the district a number of days corresponding to the number of scholars sent to the
school. The school system in those days placed the schools of the town in charge of six officers,
three inspectors who visited the schools and looked after their management, and three commissioners
who looked more after the money matters; and three of the six having power to grant teacher's
certificates. Johnson's was given by Cady Knapp, Hon. Olmsted Hough, who had been member of assembly,
and Dr. Silas Clark.
The following winter he taught the school again at the same place and during the summer of 1832 taught
the district school on the south side of the river at Little Falls at $12 per month, including board
and washing. During the winter of 1838 he was engaged six months in district No. 1, at West Schuyler,
at $12 per month and board, his washing being done at home, and on the first day of that same year he
was married to Mary Finster, eldest daughter of Peter Finster, the trustee that he first met, in the
town of Schuyler. For ten years after marriage he lived with his father-in-law, teaching school in
their own district several winters, boarding himself at $14 per month of 24 days, and working on the
farm with his father-in-law summers or often doing odd jobs of repairing buildings and implements.
During the time he also taught three winters in the Sterling district at $12 per month and board and
in 1843 he moved with his family of wife and three children to the farm that he now occupies, just
across the road from the school house where he first taught school in Dutchtown.
From that time dairying has been the chief business of his life; but a popular townsman, his farm
labors have often been diverted by various duties connected with town or other matters, he has held
offices, either by election or appointment; an honest, impartial neighbor, he has frequently served
his neighbors in settling estates and difficulties as executor, administrator or arbitrator, and in
the old militia system his service as commissioned officer was continuous for twelve years. Much local
historical matter has been furnished by him to the county newspapers and local histories, and in his
diaries which he has kept for half a century, he will leave to future historians much valuable local
historical matter that would otherwise have been lost. In politics he has always been a democrat;
never a member of any church or of any of the numerous social organizations and has never had any
litigation. Since the death of his wife in 1887, he has continued to live on the farm, two of his sons
working it in two parts, another son and a daughter live near by and three sons have died. The
infirmities of age are not severe in his 90th year, although he does but little work excepting small
chores about the house; spending much of his time reading, which includes a large list of newspapers;
writing in his diary and revising the 50 odd volumes extending over the past, calling therefrom such
facts as will have a local value to the public, and arranging the same in a separate book for future
reference; and in his correspondence which of itself is no small item.
Unlike most people of advanced years, he not only vividly and correctly recalls the past, but also
keeps fully posted on all events of the hour, both local and public and we believe, taking everything
into consideration, he has the clearest memory and the most remarkable mental vigor of any man of his
age in the county.