Philander L. Johnson
Philander L. Johnson, son of Capt. Levi Johnson, was born in Cleveland June 22, 1823. He attended the primitive public schools possessed by that city in its early days, but which did not insure for him a very extensive education, so he supplemented this learning by attending the Oberlin preparatory school. After leaving school he worked for his father in all of his building enterprises, in fact the lives of both father and son ran so close together that it is but right that this article should give the salient points of both.
Capt. Levi Johnson, the father, was one of the early pioneers of Cleveland. He was a native of Herkimer county, N.Y., and was about twenty-four years of age when he located in the Forest City. His usefulness and skill as a builder could be seen all about the embryo city, both in public and private edifices, some of which are still standing as monuments to his industry and enterprise. He constructed for himself and family a log cabin on what was then called the Euclid road, near the public square. In 1812 he built the old log court house and jail, which were combined, on the north- west quarter of the square. It is interesting to note that he also put up the gallows on which the notorious Indian O'Mic was hung. This Indian killed two trappers, named Wood and Gibb, who had granted him hospitality for the night. During the sleep of the trappers O'Mic arose and tomahawked both in order that he might carry off the wealth of pelts which the trappers had stored away in their cabin. Capt. Levi Johnson built the first frame house in Cleveland, on the site of the present "American House," for Judge John Walworth. In 1811 he built the "Buckeye House" for Adolphus Edwards on Woodland Hills avenue, and soon afterward several other houses and barns in Newburg township.
He then turned his attention to shipbuilding, and in 1813 he built the schooner Ladies Master, near his residence on the Euclid road, and the boat was hauled to the foot of Superior street by ox-teams, and was there launched. Captain Johnson sailed the Ladies Master quite awhile, and it was with her that he transported Commodore Perry's officers, who stopped at the islands off Cleveland previous to that notable victory on Lake Erie, September 10, 1813, which gave the United States control of all the northwestern lakes during the war of 1812. It will be seen that Captain Johnson was the first to constitute Cleveland as a ship-building port, and well has the city maintained that honor to the present day. He next commenced the construction of the schooner Pilot. In order that he might be near his timber base of supplies, he laid the keel in the woods on the Euclid road near the site on which the Ladies Master was built, now occupied by the opera house, and when she was finished he sent for his friends in the country round about and they came with their oxen, twenty-eight yoke. They placed under the schooner a number of rollers, hooked on the oxen, and soon had her at the foot of Superior street, where she was successfully launched in the Cuyahoga river.
In 1817 Captain Johnson built the schooner Neptune on the river near the foot of Eagle street, which was also in the woods at that time. In 1824 he built the first steamboat constructed in Cleveland, just below the foot of St. Clair street. He called her the Enterprise. He sailed this steamer until 1830, doing a fair business. He then stopped ashore and built the old stone lighthouse where the present stone structure now stands, after which he went to Cedar Point and set the buoys marking the channel to and into Sandusky bay. His next contract work was the construction of 1,700 feet of the government east pier at Saginaw, and the stone house on the corner of Lake and Water streets, Cleveland, in 1841. He made this house the family homestead. Then followed the construction of a block on Bank street, opposite the old Academy of Music, and the block known as the Johnson House on Superior street. There are also many other substantial evidences of his enterprise and good judgment in and around the city of Cleveland.
At the time of his death, December 19, 1871, he left three children: Harriet, the late Mrs. Alexander Sackett; Perry W., a vessel master; and Philander L. The last named son inherited the old homestead at the corner of Lake and Water streets, where he lived fifty-three years. He recently moved to Lakewood on Lake avenue, just west of the city of Cleveland, overlooking old Lake Erie. He has been closely identified with the labors of his father since his school days, and is not actively engaged in caring for his real-estate and large vessel interests. He is an honored citizen of Cleveland, a thirty-second-degree Mason, and a member of the Knights of Pythias fraternity. He wedded Miss Sarah M. Clarke, of London, England, in 1865. Five of the seven children born to this union are living, namely: Margaret, now Mrs. Lorimer Porter; Mary, now Mrs. A.K. Spencer; Harriet R., Levi and Clare.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.