Johnsonville, East Haddam

May, 2011 by Ray Bendici

Emory Johnson Homestead

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 52-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.

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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. With the market down as it is, it may be even more inexpensive at this point.

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.

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 the walls are collapsing and the ceilings are caved in.

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. Next time!

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.

Comments

Submitted by Kim Apel (not verified) on
I visited this place as a child every Christmas (mid 80's). I remember it being decorated very beautifully with tons of Christmas lights. I asked my mom more about it and she said there was a restaurant there open for a short time called the Red Door or something like that. I think a trip down memory lane is needed and I plan on visiting Johnsonville soon!

Submitted by Marty (not verified) on
This is not haunted at all, it is a very scenic location. It just has been uninhabited for a long time which is why people become skeptical. There are houses all over the state just like this.

Submitted by Betty Price (not verified) on
Sorry to read about Johnsonville. I was married there 35 years ago! Mr. Schmitt gave us a tour of all the buildings...it was quite interesting. Our reception was at the Red House. I would go to Johnsonville every Christmas to see all the decorations...my favorite being the elves climbing the mill...was so sad when that burnt down. I don't get to CT very often, but when I do, I'll have to take a trip to Johnsonville

Submitted by Mary (not verified) on
It is neat to see this article. I drive through Johnsonville every day on my way home from work. I love to walk my dog down that road or run down it. Around the back of Johnsonville it connects to Machimoodus State Park. Over the last few years looking at the buildings have gotten more dilapidated. I wish someone would buy it and restore it. It is such a nice spot. Hike into Machimoodus and there is a nice lookout point where you can see all of Johnsonville. I always wish that I could have seen it when it was still "alive". It has the same feeling as walking through the old Sunrise Resort. So much potential......so much work and $$$.

My email is [email protected]!

Hi All, Great posts folks! The history of Johnsonville is truly fascinating. I am constructing a website all about site's past as a twine mill and a tourist village. I see some of you have memories and pictures of your Johnsonville experiences, past and present. This project would benefit from your participation. Here's the site I am building: http://johnsonville.omeka.net/ Please email me with stories, pictures, submissions, and I will be sure to give you credit!

Submitted by Mike M (not verified) on
Hit up my Facebook page if you want to see comprehensive photos of the place now. Michael Mathis. Profile picture is the American Flag

Submitted by T (not verified) on
Drove down there today...although there are no trespassing signs posted EVERYWHERE you can walk down the road and still see everything completely unobstructed. It's kind of neat, the buildings are in decent shape, it's not over grown, not even any graffiti or garbage anywhere. There are cameras on the property which seemed to be in working order. They are fairly well hidden, I only accidentally found them out of the corner of my eye. People were driving through while I was walking the road and no one stopped and said anything. I could hear normal life all around, but it was odd because that stretch is deserted. Very pretty area though.

Submitted by tiff (not verified) on
it was't ever a real town - it was an invention of the builder. He imported all the buildings to estimate what his vision was of a small NE town. Moodus was the twine town. Some of the mill buildings are still there. Not nearly as scenic, but very much more historic.

Submitted by Corinne Thresher (not verified) on
After the site was abandoned and closed to the public my mother and I would sit on the stone bench by the millpond and feed bread to the white and gray domestic geese that lived there. these geese were no longer there when I took a ride thru the area 3-4 years ago. Many years ago I went to a co-worker's wedding in the small chapel and the reception was in the Red Door restaurant. Her wedding photos were taken with the waterfall in the background. It appears that someone is living in one of the smaller white houses near the road (I've seen lights on in the house), not sure if this a caretaker or what, because the grass is kept mowed all summer. It's a shame to see everything neglected; once beautiful wrought iron gates and fencing now rusted, wooden fencing falling down, most of the buildings need painting. It's too bad someone doesn't purchase it (even some sort of foundation) and restore for the viewing public; once restored i wouldn't think maintenance and upkeep would be too expensive. Oh, and the riverboat is no longer on the pond, don't know if it rotted or was removed.

Submitted by Donna&Natasha (not verified) on
Visited on Friday kind of sad that you can't go in that the part that sucks but it's a beautiful area. We also visited Sunrise Resort which has all abandoned buildings which you are able to go inside and look around pretty cool place. Don't go alone though it can be dangerous due to rotting floor boards... Be Safe Have Fun and sunrise is said to be haunted.

Submitted by Bryan Lewis (not verified) on
I want to buy and restore the town.

Submitted by Frank (not verified) on
Well, lucky you! It was just announced today (Oct/2014) to be up for auction. Prices of $800,000 - $3,000,000 are being bandied about, altho I suspect large real estate firms will out-bid any individual shoppers. The Kommunist State of Konnectikut would no doubt make it financially impossible for any lone taxpayer to own it, and that governor Malloy would either declare it a 'gun free zone', a 'gay-only town', a 'welfare town', an 'undocumented alien town' or move inner-city thug kids into it to 'balance the local demographics'. Save your money and buy elsewhere; CT is dead, dead, dead.

Submitted by Tikon2000 (not verified) on
"The Kommunist State of Konnectikut would no doubt make it financially impossible for any lone taxpayer to own it, and that governor Malloy would either declare it a 'gun free zone', a 'gay-only town', a 'welfare town', an 'undocumented alien town' or move inner-city thug kids into it to 'balance the local demographics. Save your money and buy elsewhere; CT is dead, dead, dead." Riiiiiiiiight. CT is dead? Sure you don't mean Alabama? Or W. Virginia? Where redneck racist retards have taken control and spend their time ranting about "them"? Them being "Dem dang gay commie furriners!" Save it pal, CT is doing fine. Better once the sad ignorant relics of the past, finally burst their last paranoid brain cell, and start taking up space in the ground.

Submitted by Bryan Lewis (not verified) on
Anyone know who owns it?

Submitted by Jim Kelly (not verified) on
I have recently been hired by the existing owners in conjunction with auction.com to bring the charming village to auction next month. If anyone is interested please contact me directly at (860) 241-2704 or (917) 297-5434

Submitted by Bryan Lewis (not verified) on
How can I get in touch w mike the caregiver?

Submitted by kim kidtler (not verified) on
Would also like to talk to caretaker ,please email me

Submitted by dan guertin (not verified) on
don't know about johnsonville being haunted , but rays house on the salmon river was. worked on it in the 80s. I experienced a wild day in which doors slammed shut,and locked generators shut down(switches in the off position in a locked panel ! ) tools also changed location's. i told Schmitts crew what had happened , and they were not surprised. they related a story that while moving an access road they disturbed an old grave yard. seems that a previous owner had only moved the head stones and not the body's. the guys reburied the bones and kept it to them selves. I was asked to do the same . ray and wife were never told

Submitted by Marie and Brad Wolff (not verified) on
We were married there 32 yrs ago. Carol Schmidt played the organ, the only one allowed to play it. It was wonderful and I'm sorry to see it go by the wayside. If only someone had the $ to preserve it. No way is it haunted, just abandoned. I used to take my kids up there to walk over the covered bridge, and we would go swimming at Klar Krest. Our wedding reception was at the Hathaway Inn on Lake Pocatapaug, now Angelicos Lakehouse. Really nice memories.

Submitted by Patricia H. (not verified) on
If you want to get hold of Mike get hold of National Geographic channel.

Submitted by dan tanner (not verified) on
I worked at AGC for many years. During that time I got to know Mr. Schmitt. I also had the opportunity to do some work in Johnsonville. I remember my boss and I used to leave AGC in the morning and travel to Johnsonville and return at night. That little village was always amazing to me. The people who worked there were more than just employees. They were all craftsman. I enjoyed working around them and learned so much from them. The Neptune Twine Mill was partly in operation when I was there. I'll always remember being there and the people who worked there. As far as you Mr. Schmitt, I hope you never leave the place you love, Johnsonville.

@Dan - This is the great story of Johnsonville - the construction and the actvity between the Meriden-Moodus operation. Would you like to share your experience of Johnsonville with the web museum? My contact is listed above.

Submitted by Steve Yant (not verified) on
Does anyone know who you would contact about buying the church to move? 901-553-2007

Submitted by CC (not verified) on
I've driven through there. It's so pretty!! I use to work in the area and my first day on the job, I accidentally ended up going down Johnsonville Rd.

Submitted by Kevin McC (not verified) on
This is a shame. I was there in the early 60's as a young boy, when Ray just received the paddle wheel boat from Disneyland in Cal. shipped across land. The dam had not been re-built then. Ray had only the church going on ( from Vt.) I also remember when he bought the saw mill that was on Boy Scout property in the Hopyard, and had it move there to. He had some great idea's and it a shame the town has put up such road blocks, when this could have been the jewel of the town. I guess the same can be said about all the resorts that date back over 100 year's too. One can only hope maybe a special use permit is issued , and some one with deep pockets, can save the remarkable place.

Submitted by Jeannette Jahel... (not verified) on
I grew up there from 1980 - 1995 and lived in the house beside the pond. Mr. Schmitt "adopted" my sister and I and he was an amazing man - who loved this village. He was proud of his "hobby" and brought antiques from around the world for people to see. I can not travel to the village any more because I want to remember it in the pristine condition that I grew up in. My last visit was about 5 years ago and I just wept at the site of the grounds. I had always dreamed of taking my children back to show them where I "grew up", and they saw it and wanted to know how I could have lived there. All I have now are the pictures and memories...I fished in the pond, had prom pictures taken there, explored the woods, sledded down the bid hill in the field, and spent Christmases watching people come and go to appreciate the lights and attractions (he never charged anyone admissions). Living there was like living in a fairy tale and will always be among the best memories of my life. Thank you for your collaboration!

Submitted by Hunter (not verified) on
Johnsonville is now on the market for $2.9 million!

Submitted by Lauriebeckmann ... (not verified) on
I spent many good times there with you Jeanette. I have wondered what happened to you. Email me. [email protected]

Submitted by Rob Bradway (not verified) on
I have fond memories of weekends spent there with my grandparents, who lived in the middle of the three houses. My grandfather, Roman Ryczek, was the living connection to the Neptune Mill past. He worked in the mill from 1927 until it burned in 1972 (two lightning strikes), then was the property caretaker for Ray until 1992. He would take my brother and I to feed the ducks and geese, to the barn that was behind the "Doherty House" (as he called it) to feed the horses, exploring the construction equipment up in the "pit" behind the Schmitt house, and of course poking around in all of the buildings. There was always a trip "upstreet" to the post office, or Harry Weinstein's Soda Shop for breakfast, where all the locals told tall tales and swapped lies. My mother grew up in Johnsonville as well, but in those days they lived in the lower house, the one right across the street from the dam, on the second floor. Apparently my grandmother was quite the carpenter; my grandfather would come home at night from the mill and bump into walls that were not there when he left in the morning. My grandfather was very proud of his connection with the mill, and I can't imagine what it must have been like for him to see nearly 50 years of his life burn to the ground from his favorite easy chair right across the street in the sun room, probably watching Archie Bunker......

Submitted by Starr Ertel (not verified) on
I too have fond memories of Johnsonville. My auntie Nellie and uncle Roman lived there. That's my cousin Rob Bradway that left the comment above. I enjoyed visiting my aunt and uncle. The grounds were beautiful. I would help my uncle feed the ducks, he always had corn on hand. I had my high school graduation there back in 1978. At the time Mr. Schmitt had horses that I enjoyed petting. I remember he gave me $20.00 as a graduation gift, and he had never met me before. That was quite a bit of money in '78. I was so sad to see all his antiques auctioned off to the highest bidder. I remember one building with pull cord top flush toilets. It was a long time ago and I don't remember all the buildings and what they were used for but there was a General Store that had all the appropriate items on display when you went in. We can only hope someone buys the property and restores it.

Submitted by Candace Schmitt... (not verified) on
I am Ray Schmitt's oldest daughter. I had my Antique Shop in Johnsonville and my brother, sister and I grew up watching Dad build and re-invent Johnsonville one building at a time. However, when Dad died 15 years ago, the executors of his estate chose to sell Johnsonville and liquidate its assests. My sister and I begged the executors to keep Johnsonville intact and to let us try to open it to the public and let the village finally pay for itself. Their short sighted decision is what you see today but that is only part of the story. Dad's spirit may or may not haunt this place but he is the one who damned the village to its current fate.

They are currently using the site to film a movie. I believe it was about slavery. We swung by a small antique shop right there, and got to watch them set up the scenes and fix up a few buildings. Hopefully they fix it up nice. This place is gorgeous.

Submitted by Sean (not verified) on
I would have loved to park and walk around this area. They were doing a lot of construction with big trucks so it wasn't much of an area to adventure. Interesting drive by though, and truly right down the road from Sunrise resort.

Submitted by Justin (not verified) on
Wow - lots of information here. I met Mr Schmitt when working down the road from his Johnsonville while he was visiting one of the men that built many of the stone walls at the properties. He seemed like a nice guy and we were in awe of everything he had going on, especially the Barn that was moved from Wisconsin I think up by the old resort. Curious Candace how your dad damned the village. Regardless, it is a great place and I hope that it gets put back to the state it was when Mr. Schmitt had it his way.

Submitted by Lou-Anne (not verified) on
We visited here on Friday Nov 8th and found it all very interesting. It is really a shame that you can no longer go in and that it is just left to deteriorate. It would make a perfect Sturbridge Village if someone has the funds for it. We can't just let it sit there and auction off it enclosed treasures.

Submitted by joe (not verified) on
Hi Candace my name is joe i spent alot of time there in the mid 70's rideing the horses and swiming off the paddle boat had a friend up the road brett u might remember him if u can contact me on my email [email protected] trying to contact laurel talked to her years back but lost contact i had a lot of memories there wish someone would bring it back to life thanks again joe

Greetings all! The Johnsonville Facebook page is live! 'Like' it, and share your memories and enthusiasm for the site here! https://www.facebook.com/johnsonvillect

Submitted by Lance J (not verified) on
Stopped by Johnsonville today after yesterday's snowstorm. The road into the village was plowed, there are lights on in several buildings and there is even a Christmas tree in one building. Is someone living there?

Submitted by Robert (not verified) on
Does anyone have any information about Andy tierney trying to kill Ray Schmitt? - there should be a further investigation; just because Ray died tierney shouldn't have gotten off scott-free...

Submitted by Brandon (not verified) on
Hey Damned Ct, or Ray Bendici, check this out, https://roadtrippers.com/places/johnsonville-village-east-haddam/22747#./22747?&_suid=138853791974409391234062415246 Somebody ripped somebody off word for word and Im guessing it was them.

Submitted by Beverly B (not verified) on
Why doesn't someone buy the property and build a 55 community there, somehow incorporating the buildings that remain and adding some new, reproduction-style small housing authentic to that period? Ray would probably approve.

Submitted by Marie W (not verified) on
Beverly, I like your idea-to a point. But my Mom moved to a place like that and there was no way she wanted to be in the middle of nowhere. She wanted public transportation and plenty of "outside" life. Unfortunately Moodus is very rural.

http://www.ddtvl.com/johnsonville.htm My husband and I visited Johnsonville last summer and Dennis took some photos and set them up on our web site. Thought some of you might be interested.

Submitted by Mike Virgintino (not verified) on
I came across this page as part of my research for the defunct theme park Freedomland U.S.A. in The Bronx. I noticed a couple of mentions of the riverboat, with one stating it was from Disneyland. I believe the riverboat was The American sternwheeler that worked on the Great Lakes in the Chicago section of Freedomland. Still doing my research. If anyone has info or comments, you can reach me at [email protected] . We also have a Facebook page where we relive the memories of Freedomland. If you remember the park, join us there. Search us at Freedomland U.S.A. – The World’s Largest Entertainment Center or just use this full link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Freedomland-USA-The-Worlds-Largest-Entertainment-Center/246939775358072 Hope to see you there, Mike

Submitted by Mike Kujawski (not verified) on
I recently returned to see the place I grew up in and am so sad. The house I lived in is still the same as when we left in the 60's right across the street from the pond. Has a kid this place was great, the hills, fields, rivers, brooks, pond and woods were a young kids dream come true. Fishing, skating, swimming, flying a kite, and adventures thru the woods like Huckleberry Fin or something. The best was bought in the 60's and lost to all the kids after that for all these years. Now after half a decade it makes me so sad to see it still blocked off from the joy's of my childhood. As I lost my cousin this past week who lived next door I long to see this opened back up and put back to the rest of the neighborhood like years ago, home's full of young kids to share the same joys of this place that I did has a kid. Not the sad ruin of a once rich man.

Submitted by Bruce G. (not verified) on
Visited the town today 5/15/14. Such a beautiful, mysterious place. I just wish my friend and I could've looked around on the grounds. It's a shame it's closed to the public. I think many people would pay a donation to be able to explore (respectively) to get a taste of the wonderful past.

Submitted by Donna (not verified) on
Is it still for sale? I read somewhere that it had been purchased.

Submitted by Chelsea Von Glahn (not verified) on
I have recently moved to moodus, ct and drive by the mill every day .. it is an enchanting location where nature is gradually reclaiming the abandoned buildings .. There certainly are a lot of very large "no trespassing" signs .. making me feel very uneasy as a town resident seeing an exceptionally beautiful location blocked off so aggressively from exploration .. Although, it seems the signs have successfully protected it from becoming damaged .. I am hopeful this land will be protected from corporations and will perhaps become a wildlife refuge or preserve :)

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