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Johnstown lies in a section of Ohio originally designated as the U.S. Military Tract. This area was set aside as a means of paying Revolutionary War soldiers for their service. The land on which Johnstown sits was originally deeded to John Brown, a veteran from Kentucky, but in 1810 he sold it to a New Yorker, Dr. Oliver Bigelow. Bigelow laid out the village in 1813, donating the streets and Town Square.
The first white pioneers in the vicinity were a couple from Virginia, George and Diadema Green, who arrived in 1806. Another pioneer, George W. Evans, built the first cabin before the Greens were able to do so. The area was part of Fairfield County until 1808, when Licking County was formed. The principal origins of the early settlers in Johnstown and Monroe Township were 1) south-central and southwestern Pennsylvania, 2) the northern Blue Ridge section of Virginia and present-day West Virginia, 3) the Mohawk Valley of New York, and 4) Vermont, though smaller numbers came from other areas, such as western Maryland. The makeup of settlers in Bennington, Hartford, and Liberty Townships was similar, but Jersey Township included a large group from northern New Jersey, and Vermont and New York natives dominated St. Albans Township. Some of the streets in Johnstown bear the names of these settlers: Pratt and Kasson Streets, for example, were named after families from Pennsylvania.
Johnstown grew slowly from its founding until 1880. It came to function as the hub of Monroe, Liberty and Jersey Townships. The economy of the area was based on agriculture, and thus many of the businesses in the Village at the time served agricultural needs. Schools were established early on, both in the Village and in the outlying territory. Residents laid out local roads throughout the countryside. The earliest churches established in Johnstown were the Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian and Baptist churches.
Although Johnstown contributed many soldiers to the Civil War, it never became an important center of anti-slavery activity as, for instance, Granville had. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, several important changes occurred. Foremost was the construction of a railroad in 1880. Other developments included the establishment of a newspaper, the Johnstown Independent, the construction of the town hall/opera house in 1885, and the installation of telephone lines. After the advent of the railroad, growth accelerated. The town’s population more than tripled between 1880 and 1920, increasing from 278 to 906. Most of this influx seems to have come from the surrounding rural areas.
The first half of the twentieth century saw several important events. Electric lights were installed in 1901. A major fire destroyed the business section along Main Street in 1904, and as a result new buildings were constructed of bricks. A town water system was established in 1904. The school systems of Johnstown and Monroe Township merged and, in the 1930’s, a town sewage system was created. However, the most celebrated event during this period was the discovery of a nearly complete mastodon skeleton in 1926 on the farm of Friend Butt, east of town near the current Bike Path entrance. Numerous people came to view the excavation of the skeleton. A Newark businessman bought the skeleton and subsequently sold it to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where it remains on display today and is known as the Johnstown Mastodon.
Growth leveled off after 1920, but increased dramatically after World War II. The construction of Edwards Road spurred growth on the north end of town. However, the largest boost came in the late 1950’s, when Courtesy Homes, Inc. built the Rolling Meadows development on the west side of the Village. Johnstown’s population more than doubled from 1,220 in 1950 to 2,881 in 1960. Much of this growth consisted of young war veterans of local origin who were seeking new homes, but a significant portion was due to migration from West Virginia and Kentucky. A number of industries located in Johnstown after World War II, the most notable of which is the Technical Rubber Co., now Tech International, on East Coshocton Street. The new industries – together with the availability of automobiles and the improvement of roads, which permitted commuting to jobs in other locales – initiated another important change in Johnstown: a movement away from its earlier economic dependence on agriculture.
Johnstown produced two U.S. Congressmen during the twentieth century, William A. Ashbrook (served 1907-1921 and 1935-1940) and his son, John M. Ashbrook (served 1961-1982). The former is remembered most for his opposition to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and the latter for his anti-Communist stances.
Since 1970, rapid growth in the area has continued, but some of the growth has shifted from the Village itself to Monroe and adjacent townships. There has been growth within the Village, though, and this includes the subdivisions of Concord Crossing, Kyber Run, Leafy Dell and Concord East, as well as the development of a new business district on the “Hill” on West Coshocton Street. The origins of the newcomers have changed once again, too. Now, most new residents who are not from neighboring communities come from Columbus (especially the North End and northeastern suburbs such as Westerville and Gahanna) or from northern Ohio. A variety of new churches and service-oriented businesses have appeared. With these changes, the economic transformation of the community continues to evolve. Agriculture has faded considerably, especially as many former farms have been converted to residential land and Johnstown can now be characterized as a bedroom community for Columbus.
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