Lazy J Farm gets Century honor

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Five-year-old Joseph Johns is held upside down by his uncle Justin Daly.

East of Holts Corner, the Johns family has been raising youngsters, crops and livestock for 100 years and this month Lazy J Farm has been designated as a Tennessee Century Farm by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.

The Century Farms Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have owned and kept family land in continuous agricultural production for at least 100 years, reports Caneta S. Hankins, director of the Century Farms Program at the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU.

Family documents are examined. Public records scrutinized and the academicians reach their conclusions in a deliberate fashion to substantiate their designations.

Their diligence is appreciated by the Johns family, but there's that laid back, matter of fact country attitude out there just this side of the Rutherford County line. It's a mixture of pride with the affinity for the land and the realization that without the people the land couldn't have sustained them. In this place it's the Johns family.

"It's been in the family for 100-plus years and I and the girls and my son kind of share on the goin's on," Chady Johns said as the Easter weekend came 'round again on a warm Good Friday afternoon with another rebirth of green grass and crops reaching up.

His daughter, Charla Daly, agreed on how the family business works.

"Any time we cut hay, we're all doing it," she said. "The only one who isn't there is Momma, and she's cooking."

Johns' grandfather and his brothers inherited a great deal of land from their father. Some is still in the family. Some is not. One of the decisions on that was made decades ago during a family outing on the quintessential American holiday.

"It was Thanksgiving Day and they were all our rabbit hunting" when the deal was struck for Johns' grandfather to buy land from his brother, Johns explained while driving his pickup truck around what's been owned by that branch of the family for a century.

"The acreage is basically the same as when my granddaddy bought it," he said. "Although Telisa Scott's added five acres."

The Johns' homes are on Tennessee Central Road. Those family homes are for:

* Chady and Betty Johns who live in a white brick house.

* Charla Daly and Jody Brannon are nearby with daughter Brooke, 15. Their 21-year-old son, Justin, lives in Chapel Hill.

* Sam and Melissa Johns live in the brick house nearest the silo. Their sons are Jacob, 10, and Joseph, 5.

* Telisa Scott and Doug Hearnsberger live in house with cedar siding next to a farm pasture. Her children, Allison Scott, 18, and Kevin Scott, 22, live in Chapel Hill.

Almost all of them gathered in a pasture on that Good Friday to see what else the day would bring. They've raised crops and cattle and have rounded up animals and brought them back to the herd. Herding the Johns is as easy as herding cats, but the MTSU academicians managed to get the story straight on who was where and when as described below in an essay provided by the Center for Historic Preservation.

In 1901, Henry Ransom (H.R.) Johns traveled with his family by train from Texas to Tennessee to start a farm. He decided on a piece of land near Holts Corner in Marshall County. H.R. and his wife Victoria (Queenie) were the parents of nine children. The family worked hard, making payments on the land, and growing corn, soybeans and cotton on their 206 acres. In addition to these crops they had nine milk cows and 22 teams of horses. The family recalls that "Mamma J" would get up in the morning, fix breakfast, get the children ready for school, milk the nine cows, fix lunch and take it to the hired hands, pick 200 pounds of cotton, wash clothes, milk the cows again, and fix supper." Given this industry, the family is unsure why the farm was named the "Lazy J." Christmas Day was a time for the family to gather and Mamma J would cook for a week, baking cakes and storing them in the cellar and making custard by the gallon using a churn. Croquet was a favorite game and was taken seriously by the participants.

During the influenza epidemic of 1918, two of H.R. and Queenie's sons, Andrew Roscoe and Dewey Ransom died one day apart of influenza. H. R. was also ill but was able to recover.

Walter B. Johns, a son of H.R. and Queenie, inherited the family farm in 1934, during the Great Depression. Like his parents, Walter raised corn, soybeans and dairy cows. Walter had married Myrtle Baird on April 29, 1920, and their children were Billie Elaine, who died at birth, and Charles Edward Charles who had a pet crow named "Wahoo" who followed him to school every day and rode the harness when Charles plowed the fields.

Charles Johns inherited the farm in 1963 and grew corn, soybeans and wheat. He married Mary Ellen Hilliard in 1941. They had one child, Chady Johns. Like his ancestors, Charles worked the land with his family, instilling the family values of caring for the land and hard work in future generations.

Chady Johns lives on the farm and continues to work the land with his family. Married in 1963 to Betty Jean Gentry, the Johns are the parents of Charla, Telisa, and Sam. The family stopped milking cows in 1994, but the farm continues to produce wheat, oats, soybeans and hay. The sixth generation of the Johns family has the opportunity to work on the farm and to learn what "strong family values are all about." The Lazy J Farm is the thirteenth Century Farm registered in Marshall County.

Since 1984, the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU has been a leader in documenting Tennessee's agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farms Program.