Vintage Old Mission Peninsula farm photos; Johnson Farms on Center Road
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Every time Labor Day rolls around, I think about the farm family I grew up in on the Old Mission Peninsula, and how hard they worked to keep the farms going, starting back in the 1800s all the way up to today. My brothers and their wives, Dean and Laura Johnson, and Ward and Carol Johnson, continue that tradition, working hard all year, even in this era when it can be challenging to find a home for all their crops.

Who are the hardworking people in your life? Feel free to celebrate them in the comments section at the bottom of this story.

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Below are a few photos of life on Johnson Farms through the years. This first one is of my dad, Walter Johnson, standing, and his brother/my Uncle Guy in the driver’s seat of their Case DO tractor and sprayer, sometime in the 1940s or possibly 1950s.

Mom and Dad first lived in the old farmhouse across from the barn (about a half-mile north of Mapleton), then in 1960, the year I was born, they built a house in Old Mission to raise their four kids – me, Dean, Ward and Carol. My Dad drove that Case DO pretty much up until the day he died, and you’d often find it parked in the garage of our new house in Old Mission. It was a great old tractor.

Walter Johnson, standing, and his brother, Guy Johnson, with their Case DO tractor and sprayer, circa late 1940s or early 1950s
Walter Johnson, standing, and his brother, Guy Johnson, with their Case DO tractor and sprayer, circa late 1940s or early 1950s

Here’s one of my dad and his hired hand, Elmer (I’ll check with Dean on his last name). Those look like cherry lugs that Elmer is standing on, so it must have been during cherry season. While the farm is now known as Johnson Farms, back then it was called Crescent Hill Fruit Farm, maybe because the barn was located on a little crest of a hill on Center Road.

Walter Johnson, right (Jane's Dad) with Elmer TK at Crescent Hill Fruit Farm | Johnson Archives Photo
Walter Johnson, right (Jane’s Dad) with Elmer at Crescent Hill Fruit Farm | Johnson Archives Photo

Here’s Dad with that Case DO again, with a load of cherry lugs in front of the barn. Of course, there were no cherry shakers back then, so all the cherries were picked by migrant workers, and Dad would take his tractor and trailer through the orchard and collect all the lugs.

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Walter Johnson with lugs of cherries on Johnson Farms’ Crescent Hill Fruit Farm, July 1952 | Mary Johnson Photo

Here, it looks like they’re loading them onto our old Chevy Stake Truck and likely taking them to Gleason & Co., on the corner of Center Road and Eimen Road. Gleason & Co. is now owned by Bowers Harbor Boat Works, and a few years ago, owner Jeff Fouch uncovered the iconic Gleason & Co. sign on the building. So glad Tim and I stopped and talked to him about it.

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Walter Johnson with lugs of cherries on Johnson Farms’ Crescent Hill Fruit Farm, July 1952 | Mary Johnson Photo

Here’s Dean and Laura in that same Chevy truck at the 2022 “4th of July Walk Around the Block” celebration in the village of Old Mission. The truck is still going strong.

Patriotic Walk Around the Block; Old Mission, Michigan; July 4, 2022 | Jane Boursaw Photo
Patriotic Walk Around the Block; Old Mission, Michigan; July 4, 2022 | Jane Boursaw Photo

Here’s dad and his dad/my grandpa, Lester Johnson, with a load of cherries at the barn in 1938. Note the vintage truck and trailer and tractor (still a Case, though). Also, the cupola is no longer there. Dad said it blew off in a windstorm.

Beyond the tractor is where I used to set up my roadside stand in the 1960s and 70s (built out of lugs) and sell cherries to passers-by on Center Road.

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Walter Johnson and Lester Johnson load cherries at Johnson Farms, aka Crescent Hill Fruit Farm, Circa 1938

Another vintage photo of the barn in the early 1900s, taken from the north heading south, before Center Road was paved. The farmhouse is no longer there, having burned down in 1964. Along with the cupola, you can also see a silo that was gone long before I arrived in 1960.

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Johnson Farms Barn, Early 1900s | Old Mission Gazette Photo

Here’s my Mom, Mary Johnson, and Dad in the apple orchard. I’m not sure of the location of this, but it may have been on a parcel of land we call “The Forty,” on the corner of Peninsula Drive and Kroupa Road, across from the Peninsula Fruit Exchange.

It’s still in the family and still growing apples, although the big trees (requiring those mammoth peekaboo ladders) have been replaced with smaller, high-density plantings that are easier to pick.

This was taken in September of 1946, just a month after Mom and Dad were married on August 21, 1946. My City-Girl Mom may have been wondering what she was getting herself into.

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Walter and Mary Johnson, September 1946

And here’s a photo of Mom and my Grandma (Stella) Johnson (Dad’s mom) at The Forty, with Dean’s dog, Duke. This was taken in the 1970s, and you can see that Mom has adapted very well to farm life.

Mary Johnson, Stella Johnson and Duke in Johnson Farms Apple Orchard, The 40, on Old Mission Peninsula, 1970s
Mary Johnson, left, with Stella Johnson and Duke in Johnson Farms Apple Orchard, The 40, circa 1970s | Jane Boursaw Photo

And here are my brothers, Dean Johnson and Ward Johnson, who continue to work hard to keep the farm going, despite many, many challenges over the years. I am so, so proud of them.

Ward Johnson, left, and Dean Johnson of Johnson Farms | Jane Boursaw Photo
Ward Johnson, left, and Dean Johnson of Johnson Farms | Jane Boursaw Photo

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A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Outstanding pictures! My heart is tugged seeing these! BTW, the tractor(DO CASE) is a 1953. We also had one identical to it. Thanks Jane!

    • Thanks, Rocko! Would love to see vintage pics of the Fouch farmers sometime, too. Maybe I can come over and look through photo albums sometime. šŸ™‚

      Dad also had a Case VAO – not sure what year that one was. But I think the DO was the one he drove all the time. It was so funny to be working on the cooling pad, and you’d hear that DO coming down from the barn and there was Dad. He’d stop by to see how things were going, check his water system, then off he’d go on the DO to check his irrigation lines out back. He loved to drive that tractor.

  2. Thank you, Jane, for that stroll down memory lane. I remember the road to our farm being dirt and how excited we were when it got paved! Your photos being back so many memories.

  3. I have lots of great memories with the Johnsons…

    I used to ride with Carolyn sometimes. I don’t recall the name of her sweet gentle horse but I do recall how big Skipper was and that once he just flicked me off his back like I was a fly, right into a cherry tree.

    One time I was in the barn with Carolyn and maybe Dean + when there were long-horned steers that were riled up, snorting and running in a circle – it was sobering, I thought they might bust the partition down.

    Crazy Duke, busted his teeth biting at the rocks when the waves made them look like they were moving.

  4. Jane, I love these pictures and the history. As a transplant to OMP 31 yrs ago Iā€™m thrilled to see how the farms were worked prior to shakers. Thank you to all the hard working farmers that provide us with food to eat.

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