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  1. Fascinating story of how a humble human rose to become famous and leave a footprint on history.
    Nicely written.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story of the North Country and Mr. Johnson’s contribution. Truly one of many stories untold …..until now.

    Appreciation to AARCH, as always!

    1. Hi Rich — thanks for being such an active contributor and inspiration. We look forward to shining a spotlight on these important stories more in upcoming seasons.

  3. Interesting article about an interesting man. I would love to know what other buildings Mr. Johnson was responsible for in the North Country, especially which buildings on the grounds of the Ogdensburg psych center were built by him. My grandfather was once the director there (early 1950s) and my parents were married in the chapel on the grounds.

    I’d also love to go on the planned outing, but I now live halfway across the world.

    1. Hi Aimee Louise– thank you so much for your interest in Isaac Johnson and our summer tours. I’ve forwarded your comment to our Educational Programs Director, Nolan Cool, who may have additional information for you. All the best, Virginia

  4. There is also “Isaac Johnson -From Slave to Stonecutter” by Hope Irvin Marston. “Based her account of Isaac Johnson on his book, …, on extensive research about his life after slavery ended, and on contact with his descendents.” CCHA has copies of both books in our Research Library. I have a copy of a picture of Isaac and crew outside the church in Churubusco taken in 1890. The note says the picture was in the North Country Catholic paper, July 16, 1967. And the Town of Clinton “Churubusco” book updated and republished in 2010 has a very nice story about the building of the church. Copies available at CCHA. It would be really, really nice if Nolan would include a picture and the information about the church in Busco as part of the tour of Waddington-Ogdensburg area. I would be eternally grateful as a Busco girl! Please put me on the list for the tour.

    1. Hi Geri — we’ve been thinking about you and your Churubusco connection. We hope to be able to make a pit-stop on the way back into town, but that might make for a really long day. Either way, stay tuned!

  5. My husbands great grandfather “John B. Baker” was from Winchester Ontario, Canada. Mr. Baker is said to have been a stone cutter by trade and that he worked in a limestone quarry south of Winchester. He is said to have cut the limestones and worked along side Isaac Johnson in construction of the Winchester United Church. Story has it that Isaac Johnson was a black slave who fled to Canada in search of freedom. The Winchester Press carried a full page story this week on “American history buffs” visiting the Winchester United Church That Isaac Johnson built along side John B Baker. A 95 year old Aunt ( Ruth Fetterly) at the Hartford in Morrisburg still tells this story.

    1. Hi Judy, Thanks for your message! We were the architecture folks that made our way up to Winchester a few weeks back. We also met John Baker’s distant relative at the Baker house who mentioned a similar story of Johnson’s presence at the quarry in Winchester. We found that Johnson was working as a lime mason as early as 1875 in the Winchester area, and prior to that worked as a boatman around the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence. He escaped bondage in 1863, running into Union lines in Kentucky and soon after making his way to Detroit. There, he joined a black Union Army regiment and served until the war’s end.

      Ruth’s story also sounds fascinating, would love to hear more. Thanks. -Nolan

  6. Hi! We have recently discovered Isaac is the great great grandfather to my husband! Isaac’s son Daniel died when his son was pretty young so we never really knew the history. Now we just want to know more! I think a exploration into his works would be so fascinating! Please let me know when they are planned! Thanks!

    1. Hi Tara, my name is Ned and I’ve been doing research into Isaac’s early life in Kentucky. There is a museum with an exhibit on Isaac that would really like an “oral history” (a recorded conversation) with one of Isaac’s descendants. Would your husband be interested? I think this would greatly add to Isaac’s story. Not sure you’ll check this comment 3 years later. I’ll see if there are other ways to contact you. My email:

  7. Hi Nolan, I’ve heard Mr. Johnson spoken of by family since I was young. Being from the Massena/Waddington area his works were often pointed out by my father or grandmother. My grandmother was the niece of the Catholic priest who oversaw and participated in the construction of the church in Cherobusco, the Rev. Jeremiah Murphy. Jeremiah’s father, James Murphy(1818-1894), perhaps not coincidentally was a stone cutter who worked with contractors on many
    projects including many in Ontario.

    1. Hi Rick,

      Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating bit of personal and regional history about Johnson and his work! We did not know about Murphy’s father being a stonecutter – this is a wonderful detail. In the construction of the church at Churubusco, the Reverend was always the spokesperson, but referenced the construction of the church in some detail, so it makes sense that his father was more intimately tied into the world of stone construction in the region during the 19th century.

      Thanks for taking the time to share this with us and read the piece, we always love feedback and learning more about the subjects we explore!

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