History of Johnstown
Johnstown is one of the oldest towns in the county and was in its day the metropolis of Spruce Township. In the early days, it was often referred to as Hardscrabble for the “hardscrabble” the men who drank and got in brawls had in getting away from the officers in trying to reach the corporate line, for once acress the line the officers wouldn’t bother the men.
James Stewart was the first settler in 1821 and Stewart’s creek took its name from him. He was a blacksmith who came from Lafayette county, remained a few years and then went to Johnson county. John Pyle came from Kentucky in 1834 and bought the Stewart claim and died in 1842.
The first store in Johnstown was established by Jim and Dan Johnson in 1845. They were followed by Dick McClure and John Harbert & Son. John Hull was the first blacksmith. The first post office was in 1848 or 49. Johnstown had become a central place for Indian traders to exchange furs for trinkets to then barter with the Indians for more furs. As it was so far to any other town, Johnstown did a considerable business West Point, Clinton, Harmony Mission and Harrisonville were the closest towns. Other early settlers are William B. and Nicholas Page, George Cooper, Nicholas Payne, R.L., B.J. and D. B. Pettus, George Ludwick and wife, Henry and Jacob Lutsenhizer, William Lutsenhizer, John E. Morgan and A.M. Odneal.
There were 2 wholesale houses, 5 general merchandise stores, 2 saloons, 3 blacksmith shops, a cabinet shop, mill and harness shop…all before the Civil War. Prosperity continued until the outbreak of border troubles and the Civil War nearly ruined Johnstown.
In 1864 Bates County had lost its organization and the people petitioned the Governor to appoint judges to reorganize the county. Jacob Wright, John Atkinson and Jefferson Porter were named County Court Judges and they appointed John Meyers (from Butler) as clerk. As only Jefferson Porter was living in Bates County at the time…near Johnstown, the Judges designated Johnstown and the place where the court would be held and legal business transacted. Two or three courts were held there before most people moved back in the county. County elections were held in August 1864 and all offices except prosecutor and probate judge were filled. This informal county seat helped Johnstown recover quickly at the end of the war. Unfortunately, the building of the MKT railroad shortly after the Civil War rendered it impossible that Johnstown should ever again attain its old prominence.
Downtown Johnstown – early 1900’s