Johnson and Little Canada

                                                            Johnson & Little Canada

                                                                           by Rick Russack


The sawmill town of Johnson, NH,  lasted only a few years. Although it had its own post office, Johnson was actually   part of Lincoln and was just a short distance north of the J.E. Henry mill complex. George Johnson,  an experienced lumberman from Monroe, NH, first appears on the Lincoln tax rolls in 1899, at which time he did not have a sawmill, being taxed only for logs, sawed lumber and store goods.  The next year, he and his partner, Harry Stebbins, were taxed for a sawmill worth $8,000. In a few years, there would be several buildings in their town.  In 1905, Johnson and Stebbins contracted to cut several thousand acres of prime timberland owned by the Publishers Paper Company of Maine.  They leased from the Boston and Maine Railroad, for a five-year period, an existing  2 1/2  mile spur line running north from N. Woodstock, for  $800.00 per year. Johnson also leased a 28-ton Shay locomotive from the Lima Locomotive Works.  It appears that Johnson arranged with the J.E. Henry Company in Lincoln to assist with the operation of this rail line.   Johnson built a large sawmill and numerous other buildings.  He successfully petitioned the Postal Service for a post office for his “town”.  The first postmaster was George Johnson himself-which seems only fitting.  The post office operated from 1899 to 1915.


  George Johnson's Post Office and General Store

In 1906, Johnson entered into another contract with Publishers Paper Co, to cut additional timber and this contract included the lease of a sawmill and other buildings owned by Publishers Paper Co. near  the  Lost River Gorge and Caves, in Woodstock. A small village existed around this mill, with a store, boarding house, and homes. As the Johnson operations grew, he decided that he needed a logging railroad.  In 1907, he incorporated the Gordon Pond Railroad, which was to be a 6 ½ mile logging railroad that would be used to move timber from the woods to his two mills.  In 1908, the Gordon Pond Railroad was in operation.  Johnson was logging a large area extending from Mt. Lafayette out to the present day Lost River campgrounds. The 1910 tax invoice for Lincoln (since Johnson was actually part of Lincoln) provides details and values for Johnson: A mill and machinery was valued at $6,000, a small mill at $300, the railroad engines and cars at $6,000. 20 buildings at $5,100, merchandise in the company store at $3,000 and 1,000,000 board feet of uncut logs worth $6,000 together with 800,000 board feet of sawn lumber worth $8,000. In 1912, the tax invoice tells us that there were 30 buildings valued at $8,125 in addition to the mill. The 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map of Lincoln includes Johnson and it provides a few more details. It shows  a  large sawmill, powerhouse with three boilers, an engine house,  a blacksmith shop, a school, a store and post office,  a boarding house, harness shop, grain storage buildings,  a large horse and cattle barn and several tenements for workers and their families. 


The 1910 Lincoln tax invoice also gives us some indication of the number of employees in the town.  Seventy-eight men were listed by name and 28 “Polanders” were listed by number.  This method of identifying foreign-born employees was not uncommon.  Town clerks could not spell the names and probably could not pronounce them.  Sometimes they’re identified as “Polanders”, sometimes as “Poles” and sometimes as “Russians”.


During parts of 1906, The Plymouth Record had a correspondent in Johnson.  We   see that, although a company-owned logging town, the residents lived the same life as folks in more traditional towns.  For example, the Jan. 27 issue notes that “wedding bells are soon to ring again” and that James McGraw had a telephone installed. The Feb. 24 issue tells us “Several boys and girls are attending school this winter in Lincoln because there is no school in Johnson in the winter.” On Dec. 8, we learn that “Mrs. Gigner has moved here for the winter” and that Edward Pichette, the “young son of Joseph Pichette is quite sick”.   


By 1916, the town of Johnson was deserted.  The large mill had burned in 1915, and since most of the available lumber on the leased lands had been cut, the mill was not rebuilt. The Johnson lands became the second parcel acquired for the newly formed White Mountain National Forest.   The name Johnson survived on maps of the area for quite sometime.  The 1925 AMC map still shows the town.  Virtually nothing remains of Johnson today.  Some of the buildings, including the schoolhouse, were moved to Lincoln, and some to North Woodstock.  Remnants of the bases for the steam engines are still in place and there are other scattered remains. The construction of Rt. 93 destroyed what little was left after the state had widened Rt.3 several years earlier.  Much of the old Gordon Pond Railroad bed remains and, in fact, some of it is still an active railroad.  The White Mountain Central Railroad, part of Clarks Trading Post, is built on portions of George Johnson’s railroad. 


“Little Canada”

There is one more piece to the story of the town of Johnson and the Gordon Pond Railroad.  In 1909, and again in 1910, George Johnson sold the hardwood trees on his land to Edward Matson, of Pennsylvania.  Matson was in the hardwood flooring business and he built a large mill and kiln on land not far from Johnson, along the line of the Gordon Pond Railroad.  Matson built homes for his workers, a boarding house, and a wagon hub factory on this land.  Matson called the settlement “Little Canada” and it was so identified in Lincoln records. (Many towns had sections known locally as “Little Canada” but Matson appears to be the only company that used the term in its official documents.) Matson’s buildings were valued at $3,100 in1911 and in 1912 the settlement had 32 residents.  Much more of this enterprise remains visible in the woods today than does any of Johnson itself.  There are large, impressive, concrete stanchions, stone foundations, debris from the powerhouse and the likely location of the boarding house has recently been uncovered. On the hill, just west of the remains of the kiln, are a few reminders of the other enterprise on the site, the Northern Pennsylvania Hub Company.  The exact relationship of Matson and the Northern Pennsylvania Hub Company, although it had to be a close one, is not yet known.  The 1911 Sanborn map, mentioned above, shows that the Hub Company drew its power from the powerhouse of the Matson mill and kiln. In 1912, the value of the Hub Co. was listed as $1,500 with “stock in trade” worth $250.00.  Presumably, the Hub Co. workers shared the facilities of “Little Canada”.    Johnson’s Gordon Pond Railroad ran alongside of the Matson buildings, brought in the raw materials, and hauled out the finished product.   The Matson enterprises lasted only a few short years.  Some say that George Johnson took advantage of Matson’s lack of knowledge, and that Matson was doomed to fail.  Be that as it may, Matson’s enterprises were ended by 1916.  A short walk down the railroad bed from Bog Brook Road in Lincoln will bring a visitor to the site of the Matson kiln.