#ThisOldHouse @VisitLumberton @RobCoHistoryMus February 15

I started the Coach4aday blog in 2014 and have done daily posts on one topic for each year. In 2014 my daily posts were on the “Beer of the Day”, 2015 it was “A Friend of a Friend”, 2016 I wrote about “North Carolina”, and in 2017 it was “Colleges and Universities”.

The one consistent piece of feedback I have received with this blog is the 2015 series on “A Friend of a Friend”. Readers and blog followers said please bring it back. The stats also back that up with the number of views each of those posts received.

So in 2018 two things will happen with the Coach4aday blog; One I plan to collaborate with a friend named John Rancke and revisit some of those 2015 “A Friend of a Friend” posts and do some new ones with a slightly different twist. I write the posts on odd numbered days each month and John handles the even numbered days.

In addition John and I will write about things we both are interested which will include basketball, food, people, music, our granddaughters, and great stories.

If you want to follow the blog via email go to the bottom right of the post and click the follow button.

My twitter handle is @coach4aday2 if you want to follow the blog that way.

John’s twitter handle is @JohnRancke if you want to reach out to him.

Thomas L. Johnson: A Dynamic Robesonian-Remodeling History

Originally published by Dan Kenney January 5, 2000-Edited 2018

If you are going to live in an old house you might as well know some of its history.

In August of 1998, my family returned to Robeson County after a 6 year absence and undertook the project of restoring a multi-family structure back to a single family home at 1209 North Elm Street in Lumberton. Some twenty years later we still call it home. The home has been good to us and has let us experience many things including weddings, parties, marriage proposals, fundraisers, birthdays, anniversaries, and countless dinners with family and friends. I tell people if they see a room that is finished to let me know which one it is.

Our home was built in 1910.

House Before

In the first 18 months, the project went from dream (nightmare) to reality thanks to the talents of many craftsmen including: Master Electrician William Townsend and his sons Ben & Chad; the plumbing expertise of Ricky Morgan, Mark McLaughlin, and Dennis Hucks; the installation of central heat/air by Bobby Townsend; the demolition determination of Burnis Smith, Geoff Kenney and Alex Mozingo; and the overall hard work, dedication and attention to detail supplied by Tom Carter.  These Robeson County residents’ special talents have returned the house to much of its original 1910 features.

The house today.

House After

The moral support from neighbors Kenny and Bonnie Biggs; Pete and Frances Sundy; Carol and Buddy Mozingo; Sherwood and Linda Hinson; and Ron and Colleen Brown also kept us going during the entire project.  Mr. Asa Jackson’s (the previous owner) heirs had sold us a multi-family dwelling that included four one bedroom apartments.  Our research indicates that the house was utilized as apartments for about 35 years. We even heard stories about raucous UNC Pembroke fraternity parties during the late 1960’s. As we went about our remodeling and restoration, we were also able to uncover some interesting local and state history about the original owner Thomas Lester Johnson (and his family) from newspaper accounts, The State Library of North Carolina, the Public Library of Robeson County, Jean Sexton at the UNC Pembroke Library, books, and oral history from his great-nephew David Ramsaur and granddaughter Cynthia Johnson Joyner.

The early part of the twentieth century, specifically the decade of the 1920’s, produced Robeson County’s (NC) most prominent politician, Governor Angus McLean (1925-29).

Yet, during the decade of the 1920’s, another Robeson County politician made huge strides in North Carolina politics and even attempted a run at becoming the Governor of North Carolina in 1932.  The move to become Governor would require him to leave Robeson County for fifteen years but, in his absence one brother, Ervin Mosby Johnson, would serve as Lumberton’s Mayor for a period of 21 years (1922-43) and another brother, James Floyd Johnson, would achieve notoriety as President of Fairmont National Bank.

The three brothers left their indelible mark on Robeson County and Lumberton but the most prominent statewide was the older brother, Thomas Lester Johnson, who was born on November 13, 1884 in Buncombe County (NC). His two younger brothers were both born in Buncombe County, James Floyd Johnson born on June 6, 1888 and E. M. Johnson born on September 16, 1889. They came from a bloodline that had deep roots in American History.  The Johnson’s great-grandfather, Jackson Johnson, lived in Halifax, VA and reportedly reached the age of 108 years old.  The 1790 census (America’s First) mentions a member of Thomas L. Johnson family, James Johnson from Pittsylvania, VA.  In 1776, James Johnson served as Captain in the Sixth Virginia during the American Revolution  and the following year, he was promoted to Major.  The Johnson family of the 1700’s and pre-Civil War 1800’s had large land holdings around Pittsylvania County (VA) and Halifax (VA).  Thomas L. Johnson’s father was William Sandy Johnson born on October 6, 1861 in Swansonville, VA (Pittsylvania County) who at the age of 21 (1882) moved to Alexander, NC (Buncombe County) and married Mary E. Martin, daughter of William Irvin and Amanda James Martin. On January 20, 1902 still early in each of the three brother’s lives, their mother passed away and left the raising of the Johnson family (three brothers and three sisters) on the shoulders of their dad. T.L sister’s names were Agnes, Lula Mae, and Bessie. He was preoccupied with trying to make ends meet and did not encourage them to get an education. In December 18, 1908 William Sandy Johnson died and T. L Johnson became the driving emotional, spiritual and financial influence on his siblings’ lives and he made sure all were college educated. Shortly after his father death he moved all of his siblings to Robeson County where they finished their public schooling.

Thomas L. Johnson attended Haywood High School (Clyde, NC) and graduated from Mars Hill College. He left Mars Hill and attended the Law School at Wake Forest graduating in 1908.  He moved to Lumberton and set up a law practice with DP Shaw over the First National Bank Building (corner of 5th and Elm Street).

TL Johnson Bank

He would remain in Lumberton for the next 23 years accomplishing much in the courtroom, community and in politics. His legal experiences included representing the defendant Kemp in the 1923 sensational murder trial in Superior Court of the “State versus Kemp”. In that case Kemp was acquitted after being brought to trial for a murder he was have alleged to have committed in 1883.

Thomas Johnson married Jessie Moser on December 22, 1909 in Hickory, NC and the newlyweds began boarding with Mr. and Mrs. D.B. McNeill of Elm Street while they waited for their 5,000 square foot house at 1209 Elm Street to be completed by Lumberton’s finest builder Mr. Thomas Burney.

The McNeill’s were parents of Mrs. Emma Seyfried who now lives at the corner of 15th and Elm Street. The house was completed in 1910 and the couple moved in on January 24, 1910.  It was the talk of the town with its giant wrap-around porch, seven bedrooms, large dining room and eight fireplaces. In 1910 when his house was finished all the Johnson brothers and sisters moved in with their older brother T.L and his wife Jessie. In addition to his siblings T.L. and Jessie had two children Thomas Lester Johnson Jr. and Christine Johnson. Thomas Johnson Jr. died in November of 1998 at the age of 87 in Asheville, NC. Thomas L. Jr. had a daughter named Cynthia Johnson Joyner who lives in Hilton Head, SC with her husband.

Thomas L. Johnson became settled into the community and became active in the Lumberton Kiwanis Club along with the School Board. He served as Chairman of the Robeson County Board of Education for 15 years, was a Trustee at NC State, a member of the General Board of Baptist State Convention and was a charter member of Kiwanis when it was founded in 1924.

In 1924, Lumberton and Robeson County was the center of the North Carolina political talk as Lumberton’s own Angus McLean was running for Governor.  Another Lumbertonian also cast his hat into the ring for state office in 1924.  The race was State Senator and the candidate was Thomas L. Johnson.  He defeated his opponent by the count of 4,760 to 478.  He choose not to run in 1927 so he could finish a term as a Judge but ran and won again in 1929 and became President Pro-Tem of the State Senate.

Senator Johnson had the honor of introducing Governor elect Angus McLean at his inauguration in January, 1925.  He was the author of the Johnson Banking Act in 1925 and many Law Reviews including Yale Law Journal considered it the most dramatic banking act of the decade.  In 1926, at the end of his first term, he was appointed “Emergency Judge of the Superior Court” by Lumberton neighbor, good friend and Governor of North Carolina, Angus McLean.  After his emergency status had expired, he ran again for State Senate in 1928 was elected and served as State Senator until January 1931.  In the Fall of 1931, he sold the house at 1209 Elm Street and moved to Asheville, NC to run for Governor in the 1932 election.  His campaign never was successful and he lived in Asheville until 1944 when he returned to Lumberton living first at the corner of 19th and Elm while his house was being built at 1701 Walnut Street.  He lived there until his death in 1956.

North Walnut Street

Even though Thomas Johnson achieved much in state politics, his brother E. M. Johnson served Lumberton exceptionally well. As mentioned earlier, he had a 21 year tenure as Lumberton’s Mayor and practiced law in the firm of Johnson, Johnson and McLeod during the 1920’s. Later in his career he was in practice with I. Murchison Biggs and John Wishart Campbell.

(l-r) Mr. Biggs and Mr. Campbell

His time as Mayor saw a new Carolina Civic Center, Post Office (Musslewhite Law Offices), and Armory (Bill Sapp Recreation Center) become part of the Lumberton infrastructure.

The Armory today called Bill Sapp Recreation Center


His grandson David Ramsaur has carried on the Johnson family tradition by being an attorney in Lumberton law firm of McLean, Stacy, McLean, McIntyre, Ramseur and Murray.  David’s mom, Lois, used to live on Elm Street in the house her dad had built in 1939 while he was Mayor of Lumberton by Mr. Thomas Burney (same builder as T.L.’s house at 1209 Elm Street) and was the daughter of the Honorable E. M. Johnson who died May 10, 1976 at the age of 86. Today David and his wife live in that house.

James Floyd Johnson tinkered as a school teacher until 1916 (age 28) and then went into banking first at the Bank of McDonald and then onto Fairmont National Bank where he started as a cashier and rose to the rank of President until his death in 1956. Family members have said that J.F. Johnson’s brother T.L. Johnson died the day of his funeral. J.F. Johnson also had farming interests in Robeson County. Records indicated that James F. Johnson married Augusta Waldrop in 1914 in Asheville, NC and had at least three children: Kathleen born in 1916; James H. born in 1921; and William A. Born in 1923.  He also had two children from a second marriage Jenny and Kenneth. Jenny Johnson Smith was a Robeson County Extension agent until she recently retired. J.F son James H. has his Ph.D. in music and has recently published a historical review of the state song “The Old North State” for the State of North Carolina. James H. lives in Roanoke, Va. James F. Johnson was considered a citizen committed to the betterment of the Town of Fairmont and was very active in civic matters.

If you consider knocking around some dust and remodel your home in Robeson County, do not forget to check on the history of previous owners. It may do wonders for your appreciation of our wonderful community and its rich history.


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