Les and Rosie Mohler hired Jerry Ward of Delton, Michigan, to carve the tall stump of a diseased ash tree left on the Sunbury Village Square as part the village of Sunbury’s 2016 bicentennial celebration.
During the carving, Ward would not say who the figure was going to represent; he said he was sworn to secrecy. All anyone would say was that the figure was of someone who visited Sunbury, and left something valuable behind.
It didn’t take long for the secret to get out. Ward’s sculpture is none other than Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) was born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts, and died in 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. During his lifetime, he traveled on foot, planting apple seeds throughout Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Myers Inn Museum curator Polly Horn said Johnny Appleseed made a good subject for the bicentennial carving.
“I’ve often wondered about the origin of the old apple orchard on the south side of Granville Street along Prairie Run Creek,” Horn said. “Could these trees be descendants of Johnny’s trees? The spot is beautiful, and until the Granville Street Bridge opened up the route from Columbus Street to Street Route 3, there was no access to this land without fording the stream.”
Horn said Prairie Run Creek comes from the north through Berkshire Township and is close to Taylor Run Creek in Kingston Township, where Johnny Appleseed did stop annually.
Horn said Mahala Rosecrans Winterbotham loved to tell stories of her youth to her young grandson, Jack Baldwin. Jack’s mother, Mrs. A. Baldwin, collected the stories, illustrated them, and put them in a book titled “When Our Mother was a Little Girl.” The Press of the Woman’s Temperance Publication Association published the book in Chicago in 1888.
In the book, Mahala tells Jack about the people who came annually to their cabin when she was a little girl; people like Jimmy the Spinner would come every fall to spin in different homes for room and board, before moving on in spring.
“Another singular character was ‘Johnny Appleseed’ — a small, wiry man, with keen black eyes and long black hair. For years he had gone up and down through Ohio and Indiana, doing what he called his ‘duty.’ His idea of duty was peculiar; but for it he endured great hardships. And, finally, sacrificed his life. He was chosen, he said, to make the wilderness blossom; to plant, that others might eat the fruit. At the cider mills in Pennsylvania he gathered apple-seeds; filling a bag, he took it on his back and started westward. Carefully choosing places where the soil was fertile and the outlook pleasant, he would clear the ground and plant his seeds. These clearings would, perhaps, be miles from any habitation. And often in the midst of forests, but the locality was well marked in his mind, and year after year they were re-visited and cultivated, and became, under his care nurseries for the surrounding country.
“He lived to be an old man. One night he asked for shelter at a cabin in western Indiana. They gave him food, and offered him a bed, but he preferred the floor — and with his bag beside him, he went to sleep. In the morning they found him dying. He was unconscious, but a look of perfect peace was on his face. Perhaps he saw the Tree of Life.
“The love of this man for the trees he had planted was like that of a father for a child. He could not bear to have them pruned or grafted. To cut them, seemed inflicting pain. His heart was full of tenderness toward everything except himself. He went cold and hungry; walked barefooted through snows of winter, and bore the heat of summer; but he could not see an animal or an insect suffer, and the little money he had, he spent in providing homes for crippled and ill treated horses.
“Grandfather’s place was generally his stopping place, and over the kitchen fire they held long arguments, for Johnny held strange views called Swedenborgian, and grandfather was a Wesleyan Methodist.”
Mahala’s mother, Susan Patrick, came to Ohio in 1809. Her father was Abraham Rosecrans, son of John Rosecrans, and a cousin to Crandall Rosecrans, the father of General William Starke Rosecrans. Kingston Township early settlers included the Rosecranses, Starks, Patricks and Taylors from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, who came to the area as commissioners to see if the land was good to colonize.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093