Johns Homestead History
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
The Land Henry County, Georgia was created by the Georgia State Legislature in 1821 from land acquired from the Creek Indian Nation by the First Treaty of Indian Springs. In 1822, DeKalb County was formed from parts of Fayette, Gwinnett and Henry counties. The Pea Ridge area, where Johns Homestead Park is located, is included in the part of Henry County that became DeKalb County.
John Johns, a Revolutionary War veteran living in Wilkes County with his wife Anne Smith, won Land Lot 144, District 18 in the original land lottery that was held shortly after the Henry County’s creation. Sometime between 1821 and 1828, their son, John B. Johns Sr., purchased nearby lot 165 from a man named Reason Whitehead who had originally purchased it in the 1821 land lottery. This 202.5-acre tract was purchased from Mr. Whitehead for a reported $10 per acre. Sometime between 1829 and 1832, John B. Johns Sr. built the one-room, wooden frame house on land lot 165, facing Lawrenceville Highway. The Homestead is one of the oldest remaining houses in DeKalb County.
In 1854, John B. Johns, Sr. donated an acre of his land to build the community a schoolhouse, which was named the John B. Johns School in his honor. The Johns’ family assisted with the construction of the building, a log cabin. The school building, which was later renamed Rehoboth School, was also used as the first iteration of the Rehoboth Baptist Church. The church still has a copy of the original contract. The Johns family also donated one acre of land for what is now the Rehoboth Cemetery. Many members of the family are buried there. Floral Hills Cemetery and several neighborhoods were also part of the family’s original acreage.
Johns’ family descendants farmed the land until the 1980s. It is thought that the farm produced wheat, corn, and perhaps cotton. When the family vacated the house, it was one of the longest continually occupied structures in DeKalb County. Over the years, members of the Johns family have sold portions of their land, but descendants were in ownership of the house continuously until DeKalb County purchased the property in 2004. The remaining 23-acre property retains pieces of both of the original Johns Land Lots 144 and 165.
Homestead The John B. Johns Homestead and site is made up of a main house and four outbuildings. The house was originally a side gable single pen cottage with an exterior chimney and an accessible attic, making it one and a half stories. John B. Johns, Sr. is said to have made the bricks for the original home himself from nearby clay, and fired them on the property. The same clay material was used to construct the dairy house outbuilding on the property. Soon after the house was built, an addition was added, making the house a saddlebag cottage. The original chimney is now in the center of the roof and shows where the original house ended.
Later, two additions were added on the front and back, resulting in two gabled ells. The front addition was damaged by a falling tree, and was subsequently demolished in 2008. The brick chimney from the front addition still remains intact. Because of its dilapidated state, the rear addition was demolished soon after.
The house is architecturally significant as an excellent and rare surviving example of a vernacular single pen turned saddlebag house. The saddlebag iteration of the house can be seen in the family photograph thought to be from the 1890s.
Outbuildings Behind the house are four typical late 19th century and early 20th century outbuildings: a well house, a dairy house, an equipment shed, and a potting shed. The outbuildings are architecturally significant as examples of rural building types on a farm homestead. The four outbuildings were not built at the same time as the main house, but were added over time as the property owners found them necessary. Although not original, the historic additions tell an interesting story about a typical rural farm homestead, and its owner’s changing needs over time.
The dairy building is historically significant. This building was constructed of rammed-earth, an ancient construction technique that became popular in the United States during the 1800s. A rammed earth wall is created by compressing a damp soil mixture into a wooden frame. Once the soil mixture reaches the desired height, the frame is removed and an earthen wall is left. Very few examples of vernacular rammed-earth buildings remain in Georgia, and Johns Homestead contains the only documented one in the state.
The Well House contains the original well dug by John B. Johns, Sr. The Equipment Shed is a typical shelter for a tractor and other small farming equipment not housed in a larger barn. A shed-roofed addition on the side of the equipment shed was used as a workshop. The Potting Shed is a small building that would have been used for potting plants and starting seedlings, similar to a greenhouse. The lower portion of the Potting Shed is made of rammed earth, a method of construction also visible in the Dairy House. The construction dates are unknown for the outbuildings, but construction techniques and details date them between 1880 and 1910. Some, particularly the dairy house, could be from an earlier date.
(Thanks to Christy R. Atkins for providing this historical info)