Long before the mini-mansions of today were being built, John Wright Johnson (1879-1941) was building true mansions with names like “Carrier Hall” and “Kingsland.” He built many of the most prestigious homes in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Johnson was born in Sardis, Mississippi, son of Swedish immigrants. His father, Andrew Johnson, was a prominent architect in north Mississippi following the Civil War. He designed and built over 77 homes and buildings, and 21 of those are on The National Register of Historic Places. As a young man, John Johnson worked with his father. At the age of 21 he was assisting his father in the building of the Henderson store in Sardis. That same year, he apprenticed in the Memphis architecture firm Walk Jones Architects.
On April 6, 1906, The Southern Reporter newspaper in Sardis reports he hung out his shingle as an architect at the age of 26.
Later, on August 30, 1907, the newspaper reports that he is in Memphis again interning with Chighizola, Hanker & Cairns Architects.
The first design job John Wright Johnson had appears to be his collaboration with his father, Andrew Johnson, on the Sardis United Methodist Church in 1908 (see photographs below). This building is credited to John Wright Johnson, Architect, and Andrew Johnson, Contractor.
In May 28, 1909, he was living in Crenshaw, Mississippi, with his wife, Mabel Patton, whom he married June 4, 1908, and building the Crenshaw Methodist Church. On August 5, 1910, The Southern Reporter says he made trip to Crenshaw to put in a bid for the Quitman County Courthouse.
In 1910 Johnson’s profession is listed in the United States Census as “Architect of Houses.”
The Masonic Lodge building below is in disrepair but still stands in Sardis, Mississippi. It was completed in 1923 and clearly lists John W. Johnson as the architect.
Johnson worked alongside his father until his father’s death in 1921. He then worked in various cities in north Mississippi and in Memphis until he moved to Memphis permanently in 1924 and began his residential construction business.
Johnson’s introduction to Memphis’ wealthy citizens came through Robert M. Carrier. Carrier had a sawmill in Sardis, Mississippi, and he asked Johnson to help design and build Barnacre Lodge, his hunting lodge and home near Batesville, Mississippi.
Carrier next decided to build a home in Memphis that was equal to those of his society friends. Johnson worked with famed architect, Bryant Fleming, on Carrier Hall, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Johnson’s connection with Carrier no doubt brought him to the attention of other wealthy Memphians who had building plans. During this phase of his career, he also worked with another famous architect, Everett Woods, on several houses.
In his later years, he worked with his son, Reid Johnson, at S.R. Johnson Lumber Company at 3569 Southern Avenue in Memphis (click here for more on the Lumber Company).
Leo Barthol, master craftsman and woodcarver, also worked out of Johnson Lumber Company. Barthol had apprenticed with Johnson and worked with him for many years. Johnson had a long love of woodcarving. Read more about this by clicking here or on the Woodcarving tab above.
This website offers photographs of many of the homes John W. Johnson built along with information about each home. Additional information can be found about home interiors, woodcarving, and the gardens of one of the homes.
The University of Memphis, McWherter Library now houses the “John Wright Johnson Collecton” in its Special Collections department. To view the collection click here.
If you know of more information about any of these homes, please contact me, Ann Johnson Smith Utterback, his granddaughter, at JohnsonArchive@comcast.net or leave a comment below.
Buildings and His Home
Designed and Constructed
by John Wright Johnson in the early 1900s
The Sardis Methodist church is an example of American Gothic Architecture. The cornerstone was laid on November 26, 1908, Thanksgiving Day. Newspaper reports say it was considered the handsomest church in the county with its 42 stained glass windows. John Wright Johnson is listed on the cornerstone as the Architect, and his father, Andrew Johnson, is listed as the Builder.
The photos below of the Sardis Masonic Lodge are from Suzassippi’s Lottabusha County website http://suzassippi.blogspot.com/2012/08/old-masonic-lodge-hall-in-sardis.html
Johnson also designed his own home in Sardis, Mississippi, which still stands. It is a bungaloid style located on N. Main Street next to Rose Hill Cemetery.
Below are two newspaper articles about Johnson when he lived in Sardis, Mississippi. The first is from The Southern Reporter newspaper, July 6, 1900.