By Sherri Coner
A couple of beloved bear cubs romped freely 100 years ago on Main Street while a lion or two sunned on the grounds of the Johnson homestead, now known as Folktale Greenwood, an events venue on South Madison Avenue.
The Dr. Doolittle type of guy who loved exotic animals and resided in the home at that time was the second Grafton Johnson, oldest surviving son of Grafton Johnson, a Greenwood millionaire.
“He was almost mauled to death by one of the lions,” said Brad Nemeth, board president of Restore Old Town Greenwood Inc. Just to clarify, the oldest Johnson son simply refused to answer to a less snobby name, such as maybe Junior.
The story of Grafton Johnson and his family began in 1847 when Johnson’s brother-in-law decided to move to Mooresville a year after clearing enough timber to construct a general store in the densely wooded area. Business savvy Johnson not only bought the business; he also expanded it. He then married Julia Noble, the daughter of an Indiana governor, and purchased the sprawling white house in the woods, built in 1840 and loved by an area pastor.
“The Johnson family owned that house for more than 80 years,” Nemeth said.
While the Johnsons raised their six children in the home, less than a mile from the new and improved general store where business was booming, Johnson’s nephew, Grafton Peek eventually moved to the area and went to work for his uncle as a store clerk.
By the time Greenwood earned an official place on the map in 1864 as an incorporated town, the intersecting streets of Main Street and Madison Avenue saw a scattering of new businesses move in along Main Street. At the same time, a lot more customers followed progress.
Eventually, McGraft Peek bought the store from his uncle.
In tune with his uncle’s vision for the future, Peek deconstructed the store and replaced it in 1889 with a stately, two-story brick icon.
“It’s such a solidly built building, it’s been there ever since,” Nemeth said.
Like the Grafton Peek building, the Johnson homestead had its fair share of change-of-address cards, too. The home was last occupied as a residence until 1978 by Dr. John and Mrs. Berniece Machledt. Occasionally, longtime Greenwood residents still refer to it as the Machledt Mansion.