About This Location
Johnsonville Village in East Haddam, Connecticut, encapsulates a fascinating slice of American history, evolving from a bustling mill community to a Victorian-era tourist attraction, and finally to an enigmatic ghost town. This unique hamlet, now under the ownership of Iglesia ni Cristo, a Philippine-based Christian church, offers a glimpse into a past era, marked by industrial prowess and later, by quiet abandonment.
The village's origins trace back to 1832 with the construction of the Neptune Mill, harnessing the power of the Moodus and Salmon rivers. This mill, alongside the Triton Mill established by Emory Johnson in 1862, propelled Johnsonville to become the heart of twine production in Connecticut. The twine, primarily used for fishnets, found markets across both coasts and the Great Lakes, signifying the village's industrial significance.
Johnsonville's architectural charm was further enhanced in 1846 with the construction of the Emory Johnson homestead. This four-bedroom house, complete with pillared porches and a formal garden, stood as a testament to the Victorian-era elegance.
The transformation of Johnsonville into a tourist attraction began in 1965 when Raymond Schmitt, an aerospace equipment manufacturer, purchased the property. His vision brought in various vintage buildings, including a Victorian stable and chapel. The most notable addition was the sternwheeler "The Canadian," a relic from Freedomland U.S.A. theme park, which was positioned in the Johnson Millpond, adding to the village's quaint charm.
However, this idyllic setting was not to last. In 1972, the Neptune Mill was destroyed by lightning, marking the beginning of the village's decline. Disagreements with local zoning officials in 1994 led Schmitt to shut down the attraction and put the property up for sale, plunging Johnsonville into a state of neglect.
The town has changed hands multiple times since then. A hotel development company's attempt to transform it into a residential community fell through, leaving the village to further deteriorate. The National Geographic TV series "Abandoned" featured Johnsonville, highlighting its state of disrepair and the mystery surrounding its once-vibrant streets.
In 2017, the Iglesia ni Cristo acquired the village for $1.85 million, intending to renovate the aging structures and convert it into a worship center. While the church currently restricts access to the property, the village itself is situated on a public road, allowing passersby to capture photographs and imagine the once-thriving life of this unique Connecticut hamlet.
Johnsonville Village stands as a physical chronicle of changing times – from industrial prosperity to a sought-after tourist destination, and finally to a ghost town, embodying a sense of timelessness and a reminder of the transient nature of human endeavors. For explorers and history enthusiasts, the story of Johnsonville offers a compelling narrative of American history, industrial evolution, and the ever-changing landscape of small-town America.
Be sure to also check out the stunning Johnsonville Covered Bridge too!