The Damned Story: In East Haddam, a few miles north of the fabled Goodspeed Opera House and near to the border of Moodus, is a 62-acre parcel of land that once was the village of Johnsonville. Once a thriving mill community, then a Victorian Era tourist attraction, it’s now an abandoned ghost town, stuck in limbo waiting for someone to either come and restore it or to put it out of its misery and knock it down.
Of course, Johnsonville didn’t start with intentions of becoming a deserted village. Originally founded in the early 19th century, Johnsonville was home to a number of twine mills, who used the Moodus River as a power source.
In the early 1960s, Raymond Schmitt, the somewhat eccentric owner of AGC Corporation, an aerospace equipment manufacturer, bought the property with unclear intentions. He seemed to want to make it a tourist attraction, but despite making an effort to, never really officially did so.
After Schmitt took possession of the property, he purchased other vintage buildings and had them moved to Johnsonville, including a Victorian stable and chapel, which hosted weddings. Schmitt didn’t formally run tours on the property, but he did open the property for visitors on a regular basis. He also allowed special events including charity benefits and weddings.
According to a November 2000 article in Business New Haven, he also had “an exceptional collection of antique horse-drawn carriages, which he displayed in the livery stable.”
More details of the property, according to the Business New Haven story:
One of the jewels is the Emory Johnson homestead. Built in 1846 by the son-in-law of one of the original owners of the mill, the four-bedroom house has three fireplaces, pillared porches, a formal garden and original Victorian-era details. In later years it served as a museum depicting décor and furnishings of the 1800s.
A small one-and-a-half story single-family dwelling was built in 1900. A two-story Colonial-style house was built in 1846. The remaining residence is a two-story dwelling built in 1800.
The office, overlooking the 15-acre Johnson Millpond, was built in 1899. The former location of the Neptune mill office, the building was once a post office. The Gilead Chapel, which seats approximately 75 worshippers, was built in 1876 and moved to the village from Waterford in the late 1960s.
No one knows the exact age of the one-room Hyde School, which was the original schoolhouse for the community of East Haddam. The Red House Restaurant was built in 1900 and has been renovated into a restaurant/banquet facility for 150-200 people. A clock and toy store, originally used as a meeting house, was built in the 1800s; Frank General Store was built in 1845 in Peru, Mass.
The Gilbert Livery Stable was reportedly built in Winsted in 1920. Its three levels contain oak stalls with unusual woodwork, including beadboard and raised panels. All of this is in a beautiful setting with views of the river, a millpond, island, waterfall and some man-made features such as a covered bridge, wooden dam, paddlewheel riverboat.
In 1994, Schmitt got into a disagreement with the town of East Haddam and shut down the attraction, putting the property up for sale. Schmitt died in 1998, and his estate started selling off many of the antiques and other pieces of the property, including some of the buildings.
At one point the property was listed for $3 million, not a bad price for 60-plus acres of scenic Connecticut countryside. Update: In October 2014, the property was put up for bid on Auction.com, where a high bid of $1.9 million was accepted. No immediate plans for the property were announced.
Some suggest that the ghost of Schmitt roams the grounds of Johnsonville, content to spend eternity in a place for which he had so much affection. We haven’t heard of any other specific ghost stories here, but like any long-abandoned settlement, there’s an undeniable creepiness inherent to the place.
Our Damned Experience: We took a trip to East Haddam in April 2011, which included a ride down Johnsonville Road and through the abandoned village. We also returned in 2014 to be part of a CBS News report regarding Johnsonville's sale.
As you can see, we stopped and took photos of the buildings that were still there, including the chapel and Johnson House. The village is in okay condition -- some of the places could use a little paint and care, but it's not like all the walls are collapsing and the ceilings are caved in, although one or two of the buildings are close.
Here's inside the general store, which obviously needs a bit of interior work.
Another one of the transplanted buildings, the 1843 Centerbrook Meeting House:
There are more images from our visits in the gallery below.
Like any good "abandoned" area, it was very quiet -- although the funny thing is that just on all sides of Johnsonville is normal suburbia, with plenty of modest homes containing average American families. Kids ride bikes down the street, men tend to their lawns, minivans are parked in driveways ... Johnsonville is like a weird dead spot in an otherwise regular Connecticut neighborhood.
We didn't see or experience anything unusual, although it would've been great to hang around and take more pictures. Like others, we are curious to see what the new owners do with the property.
If You Go: The remains of Johnsonville can be found on Johnsonville Road in East Haddam, just off of Route 149 near the Moodus end of town. No trespassing signs are posted throughout the property, although there's nothing to stop you from driving along Johnsonville Road.