When in Worthington, Tour The Orange Johnson House and Pick Up a Present at the Old Rectory

Two of my favorite places in Worthington are the Orange Johnson House and the Worthington Historical Society’s shop in the Old Rectory. This weekend, I paid a Christmas visit to both of them.

The Orange Johnson House is one of central Ohio’s oldest residences standing in its original location. Built in 1811 by Arora Buttles, the six-room house was situated on a 35-acre farm lot next to the village of Worthington. The house features some examples of pioneer architecture, such as a low-ceilinged keeping room with solid walnut wainscoting, a steep dogleg staircase to the second floor, and an open fireplace in the kitchen that is outfitted with a bread oven and an iron crane. In the kitchen, you can also see an example of a “cross-and-Bible door” or “Christian door.” The framing of this common six-panel door is constructed so that the top four panels are proportioned to resemble a cross, while the two smaller panels at the bottom look like the pages of an open Bible.

In 1816, the house was bought by Orange Johnson, a hornsmith who specialized in comb-making. He commissioned a Federal-style addition that resulted in the front door facing west toward the road that was becoming the main route between Columbus and Lake Erie. It also created an entryway that features a curved fanlight, sidelights and reeded pilasters. The four new rooms resulting from the addition all boast fireplaces with handsome mantels.

Today, the house located at 956 High Street in Worthington is filled with period furnishings that have connections to early Worthington. A collection of 19th century women’s hair combs; comb-making tools; a Hepplewhite table made by the Worthington Manufacturing Company for the Griswold Inn, in business from 1811 to 1964; a recently acquired horn that was made in Worthington in 1806; and other artifacts from the Worthington Historical Society’s collection are on display on the house’s lower level.

When I first toured the Orange Johnson House for the holidays in 2000, the mantel in the master bedroom was decorated with roses made out of apple peels. This year, ephemera related to the 46th Ohio Volunteer Infantry adorns a Christmas tree and the mantel in the dining room. In the upstairs hall, muff-toting Santas hang on a Christmas tree placed next to an 1842 coverlet and underneath a bird cage. Cranberry garlands decorate the mantel in the original master bedroom, now known as the stenciled bedroom.

The Orange Johnson House is open for special events and for tours on Sunday afternoons from April to December. Costumed docents describe what life was like for Worthington’s early settlers.

Another Worthington historic landmark I like to visit is the Old Rectory. Located at 50 West New England Avenue, the Greek Revival-style building was completed in 1845 as a rectory for St. John’s Episcopal Church. Inside, visitors can see the building’s original cherry stairway and black walnut woodwork, as well as 19th and 20th century dolls on display in the Doll Museum.

You can find great presents at the Worthington Historical Society’s gift shop, also housed in the Old Rectory. Hand-dipped candles from Kentucky and Ohio; redware pottery from Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky; books about Worthington; packages of “Worthington Bean Soup”; and consigned antiques and collectibles are some of the things you can purchase there.

Virginia Metalcrafters’ reproductions of Bishop Philander Chase’s table-top trivet are also available at the shop. Bishop Chase moved to Worthington in 1817, was the first Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, and was elected the first Bishop of the newly organized Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Ohio in 1818. During a trip to England in 1823 and 1824, he successfully raised enough money to purchase land in Gambier for Kenyon College. The original Bishop Chase trivet is on display in the Orange Johnson House.

The shop is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 1:00 to 4:00 pm and Saturdays from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.

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