Johnny Appleseed and his bench
By Bill Cook
On Congress Avenue in Glendale stands the little white and green Church of New Jerusalem. On a bright clear day a visitor can observe its spire pointing upward against a background of blue. That same spire has been pointing “Heavenward” for over a century. Few people viewing the church today in all its serenity realize the story of the Johnny Appleseed Pew and what took place in the shadow of that steeple. The story will be told here before it is lost in total obscurity.
Go west, young man, go west. This was the cry heard following the Revolutionary War. The cry echoed up and down the Atlantic coast. It echoed loud and strong throughout the valleys of old New Jersey. It echoed and re-echoed in Hunterdon and Somerset counties in New Jersey. The great rush to the Northwest Territory was triggered and the land boom followed.
My ancestral fathers sent their sons, pockets heavy with gold coins, to scout the wilderness in search of new home sites where they might carve a farm from the wilderness and settle. These young veterans of the Continental Army headed west.
Taking a long excursion into the past to the time long before there was a Glendale, the Mill Creek Valley was settled by the Cook family and the family connections–members of the family a bit nearer to Noah’s Ark.
Israel Ludlow had a large farm on Spring Grove Avenue. His mansion was located in the area where Ludlow and Chambers Streets are located today in Cumminsville.
Israel’s brother, John Ludlow, had a farm to the north on Spring Grove where Procter and Gamble is located today. John’s mansion sat where the Research Building is located.
The Cook Farm followed the road north covering present-day Elmwood Place and part of Carthage.
Directly to the north where the rest of Carthage and the southern part of Hartwell are located, was the farm of Captain Jacob White.
The Bond mansion was located just east of Carthage and Elmwood Place where Bond Hill is found today.
The land between Whites and Woodlawn was settled by families who were not part of the family connection.
In Woodlawn the land south of Glendale Milford Road and east of Springfield Pike was the farm of Henry Tucker with the land west of Springfield Pike belonging to the Sterlings. Jacob Skillman settled on the land north of Glendale Milford Road and east of Springfield Pike with Judge Luke Foster having a house and tavern on the Silkman farm.
Where Glendale now stands were the farms of John Riddle and the Glenns.
The Cockran farm was situated where Oak Hill Cemetery is located with the Kempers who moved out from Walnut Hills in about 1810, having a farm just to the northeast on Kemper Road. Just to the north and also to the east of the Kempers was the large farm of Major Thomas Sortors and his son Major Arthur S. Sortors.
Directly east of Glendale was the farm of the Ferris family., The Mosteller farm being just to the northeast.
There were two giant McAuley farms. One east of the Sortors and one just north of Sharonville where Pisgah now stands.
The Cutler farm had a West Chester location. While the farm and mansion of the Heaths was located on a site south of Sharon Road in Forest Park. Still farther west and in the Mount Healthy area was the farm of John LaBoiteaux.
These distant kin had carved farms out of the wilderness when it was still filled with the fear of hostile Indian attack. Large families were in order and marriage to your cousin almost a common necessity. They were hard workers, yet people of wealth and a fine cultural background. One of their chief complaints being the lack of churches in the wilderness. Family devotions in the home were not enough to feed their hungry souls. Hence came into being what was called – Pentecost in the Back Woods.
Everyone in the family connection would arrange their work and business affairs in such a manner as to have three weeks completely free. Gathering together all the family connections and their servants, they would make a camp in the woods. Then sleeping in tents and covered wagons, cooking their food over open fires provided time to listen to preaching from early in the morning until late in the evening. They stopped only for food and sleep.
Throughout the years this Pentecost in the Back Woods drew some of the most outstanding preachers from eastern United States and even far-off England and Scotland. The need was great and the money – Oh. so good!
In choosing a site they tried to meet within an equal distance of the pastoral scenes of all concerned. Several were tried, but the site eventually chosen was an oak, beech, and maple grove just north of the trails which became the Princeton Pike and the Springfield Pike.
Throughout the Mill Creek Valley concern for the lost reigned supreme. Great men came in the name of the Lord to call the sinner to repentance, away from the devil and certain destruction. What wonderful things would happen!
At the end of camp-meeting every back woods peer had absorbed enough religion to avoid all evil for yet another year. Praise the Lord!
In time a sweet freshness of a new board meeting house took the place of the canopy formed by the trees to shelter this eager crowd.
Two of the visitors in later years to the Pentecost in the Back Woods were men who traveled a lot on business throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. One a young man was John Henry Cook, who traveled as his father’s aide-de-camp in looking after the family business enterprises. The other an old man who traveled on his own business and that of the Lord. These two men, as their paths frequently crossed, became great friends even though they were extremely different from each other in age and background. The old man was John Chapman, better known as Appleseed Johnny or Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny owned land in Springfield, Ohio and in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He also had land at Fort Wayne in Indiana. His business was planting and selling apple trees. He described it thus:
“When I plant on a man’s farm, it’s agreed that half the trees shall be his own orchard. When anyone wants my trees, I set down an order in writing for the landowner to let him have a certain number. He pays me if he’s able, if his pocket be empty, he trades something, or he gets the trees for nothing, and God go with ’em.”
John Henry Cook in later years described Johnny as “a little old man who did not appear to have a very great quantity of this world’s goods. Johnny was very good and religious. Judge John Young of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a Swedenborgian, kept sending Johnny church tracts which he distributed to the settlers. He carried these tracts in his hat. He wore a pyramid of three hats. The first was only a brim. Next came his cooking pot. Surmounting all was a hat with a crown. The sum total was, if extremely odd, rather ingenious. It enabled him to carry not only his kettle but his treasure of sacred literature, sandwiched between the pot and the crown of the uppermost hat. The books were kept dry and his hands were left free to deal with seed bags and tools.”
In the early days Johnny was safe among the Indians. The Indians considered him crazy and would do him no harm, believing him under the Great Spirit’s care.
A vegetarian, Johnny abhorred meat because it meant killing one of God’s creatures. A more humble man never walked the Mill Creek Valley.
Johnny was a dedicated Swedenborgian who followed the doctrine of love of God for man and of man for God. He often visited the Swedenborgian preacher and congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As a young man, John Henry Cook often met Johnny in his travels and if they were both headed in the same direction, he provided the little old man with food, transportation, and shelter as his traveling companion.
Although many thought Johnny demented, Cook believed him to be intelligent and full of pleasant story and good advice. The two men were vastly different, yet in time Cook became very fond of the strange little old man. He found it easy to overlook Johnny’s eccentricity and strange manner of dress.
Johnny’s piety, wisdom of the Bible, and love of God drew Cook away from his own church. In time he became a Swedenborgian having had Johnny as his early tutor in the doctrines.
In 1844, Johnny and Cook traveling north from Cincinnati, visited the last camp meeting (Pentecost in the Back Woods). After that meeting the old meeting house sitting among the trees was abandoned. It was closed up, a place full of memories.
The old building still continued to stand beneath the great oaks and beech. It still had the charm of a forest background.
In the spring the trees reached out with branches of happiness and told with good smells of the dark greenness which would soon follow. The spring rains pattered on the old roof and poured from the eaves. The water dripped until the clouds broke and drifted apart. Then the sun smiled down upon it and dappled through the trees that formed a canopy overhead. The moss-covered shingles in spots twinkled back at the sun. The violets, spring-beauties and other wildflowers blossomed around the old structure. The wind whistled merrily to it from the trees. The birds nested in .the branches of the trees. Many of the birds ate the wild strawberries which grew close by. When the air was still, the rippling of springs over the moss-grown stones could be heard by any weary traveler on the Pike who paused to listen. At night the hooting of an owl, and the whisper of the bats as they circled on unsteady wings, broke the enforced silence. The holes in the ancient roof gave them shelter inside.
Then the soft sounds of summer; the quiet murmurings of the insects, a plaintive warble of a bird calling its mate high in an ancient maple, and the distant whinny of a horse from the meadow across the road. During the summer, cows in slow procession walked close by, the woods one of their favorite haunts.
In the autumn families gathered hickory nuts and beech nuts from the woodland floor. Wagons came laden with hay and men packed it into the old wooden structure. Men acting like woodcutters came and felled a few trees. The trees crashed to the ground. Their branches cut off and set on fire. Then the fires burned and flickered out The trunks were hauled away on the wagons to be used as winter fuel. Airy spheres of thistledown floated on the mellow air of autumn lodging on the roof or entering a broken window.
In winter the snow lay all around, white and sparkling. It covered the man-scarred world with a goose-feather whiteness. When a winter storm came, the wind howled and rattled the boards loose which offered shelter for God’s little creatures inside under the warm hay. Snow and sleet beat against the old building without mercy. During the night the gray clouds parted, the moon shone big and white in the sky. It showed the snow to be a gentle blanket over fences and the frozen ruts of the Pike. It made shadows of the hungry deer which dashed so swiftly that their feet scarcely touched the snow-covered ground. With the coming of the dawn these footprints could be seen on the earth’s white sheet. The snow was piled up against the old meeting house and looked as pure as a new-born babe. It was a perfection of purity. God’s gift from the skies.
Each year the spring thaw melted the snow. It revealed the old building as an abomination of desolation surrounded by naked trees. The interior partially cleared by the using of hay during the winter except at one end where hay had accumulated from many years past.
Thus the cycle of the seasons continued unbroken. In time Glendale came into being. First as an idea on paper; then as a reality. The land on which the old building stood was purchased by Mr. Allen and became a part of his estate. Later Mr. Allen donated the woods to be the site of a Church of New Jerusalem.
John Henry Cook, much older now, along with his friend Rev. James Park Stuart, had been working on plans for a church for quite some time. Both Rev. Stuart and J. H. Cook shared a love for the architecture and simple beauty of a little Catholic chapel located in the Black Forest of Bavaria. They tried to set down on paper as nearly as their memories would provide, an exact copy of that little church.
Mr. Mullett, an architect, was hired to take the plans, work them over and come up with the final blueprints for the building. When the members came up short of the necessary funds to build. Mr. Marston Allen, the father of Henry Allen, who donated the land and a distant cousin of John Henry Cook provided the additional funds. Cook and his business partner, William Shaffer, started construction on the building. Fifteen days later, Mr. Mullett presented the final plans and they were adopted. In less than two months after Cook and Shaffer started the construction work, Cook and Rudolf Kloth had finished carving the woodwork and a beautiful communion table in time for holding the First Communion within the Church.
Later, after the lovely new church had been completed, a group from the church set about to pull down the old hay house crouching within the shadows of the spire of the Church of New Jerusalem. Before the old building could be demolished, Cook ventured to cross the threshold for one last time. He stood and gazed.
In Cook’s memory, shadows of the past arose like objects in a dream. He recalled the times as a young man that he had attended camp meeting in the old building. He stopped and closed his eyes and recalled the people who in the past had packed it to the door. Opening his eyes all he saw was desolation, hay and the remains of some old pews up in one end of the building.
Whistling softly to himself, Cook trudged through the debris. He said a little silent prayer as he threw back the old hay and uncovered an old undisturbed and decaying pew from a by-gone time. It moved him almost to tears. He remembered how he and John Chapman had traveled in almost wordless companionship in his carriage from Cincinnati to attend their last camp meeting here. He never felt embarrassed to travel with the strangely dressed old man. His itinerary always found a place for Johnny Appleseed. He treated him as a loyal friend with sympathy and warm affection.
As Cook stood there, smiles and tears struggled together in his speech, as he told to others who had followed him into the building the distant speaking of the voices of things long past.
How Johnny and he had marched down the aisle. He sat on one side of the pew and Johnny on the opposite end as if he were quite used to sitting there.
How the humble old man’s soul rose and stretched its wings as he felt secure and joyful. His gentle, clear voice singing Psalms.
How Johnny’s cheeks were flushed from exertion as he prayed; grieved that all the world was not Christian. Oh, how his eyes did sparkle with the love of all creatures in God’s world.
How the old man sat enchanted through the message; keenly excited when it was all over and held up his hands in one last prayer.
Yes, this had been the last service in the old meeting house. It was also the last service John Henry Cook would attend with old John Chapman for the following spring someone had sent Cook a page from the “Fort Wayne Sentinel” of March 22, 1845. It stated:
“Dies – in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed). The deceased was well-known throughout this region by his eccentricity, and strange garb–He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life–not so much perhaps from avarice as from his peculiar notions on religious subjects–He submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter–He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenbough (Swedenborg) and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration–His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.”
Thus passed out of Cook’s life Johnny Appleseed, a real and living legend. John Chapman had lived on this earth seventy-one years serving man, wild creatures and God. An honest, humble man was he, remembered by Cook for his love of apple trees and heavenly grace.
John Henry Cook whistled like a whitethroat as he marched out of the old meetinghouse. He knew what he would do; he would preserve that pew.
The “pew” was restored by Cook and used by him as a model for some pews he made for the church. The Johnny Appleseed Pew was repaired and refinished. It was placed in the church for the Cook children to sit upon.
After the Cook children had all matured, the pew was taken to the Cook home to be cherished and used as a garden bench.
Shortly before her death in 1921, the widow of John Henry Cook gave the pew to her beloved neighbors (Edward and Mary Albright) who continued to preserve that pew.
After the death of Mary Albright and shortly before his own death, Edward returned the pew to a great grandson of John Henry Cook. The pew is once again used in a garden and shared with God’s little creatures–those Johnny Appleseed loved so much.
[The pew was acquired by the Glendale New Church when Mr. Cook sold his house and much of furnishings, including the pew, to the new pastor, the Rev. Stephen Cole, in 1975. It is displayed in the foyer of the Church.]