By Edward Kallop
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner
Local history books, to many readers, come across like loaves of bread in which some vital ingredient was accidentally left out. Such readers, among whom I must ashamedly number myself, instinctively shield themselves from the uncomfortable truth, namely that local histories come out they way they do on purpose. It is we that lack some vital ingredient that stouter readers apparently posses, and which enables them to enjoy the peculiarly somnolent blood which declines to beat in the heart of local history books.
In assessing Johnson's Kingdom, The Story of a Nineteenth-Century Industrial Kingdom in the Town of Wayne, Maine, I felt charged with a special duty to be fair to a book which, although somewhat laconic, possesses many genuine virtues.
Written by Edward Kallop, Johnson's Kingdom tells the story of a small scale industrial empire centered in Wayne Maine from 1858 until 1889. The empire was the product of a single man, Holmar Johnson, who moved to Wayne in 1856. Johnson's origins are recorded as that of the proto-typical self made man. Johnson is described as returning to Vassalboro, the town of his birth, after a long journey by foot, perhaps without even the benefit of shoes, starting with but 504 in his pocket, and ending up a successful industrialist.
Whether or not we quite accept this suspiciously cliched account of Holman's origins, there is no question that the description of Johnson by one of his contemporaries as "a man of untiring industry, economical and temperate habits and benevolent and kindly impulses... decided and firm in is convictions, and of tenacious will," rings true.
Johnson's specialty was the manufacture of shovel handles, concerning which no one who seeks detailed information will find Johnson's Kingdom wanting. Johnson's industrial base was in Wayne, but he maintained shovel handle plants in a number of surrounding towns, including Industry, where the plant was located "on the east side of the stream called Outlet of Clearwater Pond," which I assume is now the parking lot across the way from Clearwater=s general store.
Johnson also built a Woolen Mill, the history of which is the central feature of Johnson=s Kingdom=s second half , a second half whose depth of material will leave no devotee of woolen mills unsatisfied.
Johnson's Kingdom lasted only ten years after his death, falling apart due to an unseemly series of legal actions taken by Johnson's three sons and heirs against each other. In this regard we may consider Holman a second Charlemagne, who also divided his empire among three bone headed sons to calamitous effect.
Dry, and perhaps one may even be permitted to say, parched throughout, Johnson's Kingdom is nonetheless extremely thoroughgoing in the provision of both background material and historical perspective. Those whose characters are of so pronounced a development as to enjoy a good local history will find no object more worthy of their attention than Johnson=s Kingdom.