Cory’s Historical Corner

By Cory Peterman

H. L. Johnson Residence – Alleghany

Looking at Alleghany today, it may be hard for one to imagine that the town once featured fanciful wooden sidewalks and fences along its streets. The following photograph was reprinted in the February 27, 1959 issue of the Sierra Booster with the following caption:

This photo was probably taken in Alleghany about 1910. It shows the residence of H.L. Johnson, owner of the old Tightner Mine, reportedly purchased by the Original Sixteen to One Mine many years ago for $100,000. Both gold mines are still operated as one through the same portal by the management of the 16 to 1… Negative for the old photo loaned to the Booster by Fred Giles of Alleghany, developed by Millers Photo of Portola… The home belongs to Mamie Swan, widow of the late Jim Swan, underground shift boss at the 16 to 1 for many years.” H. L. Johnson is the tall man on the left in the cowboy hat.

Henderson L. Johnson was originally a school teacher from Ohio, who came west to mine in Colorado and New Mexico before arriving in Alleghany in 1890. He took a lease and bond on the Tightner Mine in 1903, drifting the quartz vein southward where he encountered the first high-grade pocket in 1907, amounting to nearly $470,000 in gold. Soon after, Johnson got hold of the Red Star, Rainbow, and El Dorado claims and consolidated them with the Tightner Mine.

In 1909, the Tightner Mine was sold to the Tightner Mines Company, which produced $3 million between 1911 and 1918. Along with his mining work, Johnson also made many improvements to the town of Alleghany, including town water and electrical systems.

The structure depicted in the attached photo is the grand home which was built for H.L. Johnson in 1906, and to this day is still known as the “Tightner Mansion.” The carpenter was Fred Locey, an Alleghany resident. The Morning Union of August 7, 1906 reported Johnson was building “a new home, which will be one of the costliest in the mountains.” The following year, in the edition of June 28, 1907, the same newspaper reported “At the Johnson mansion, men are at work beautifying the sidehill lawn and surrounding it with an ornamental fence. Johnson is also furnishing the city with a water system for fire protection and contemplates other improvements.

Helen Armstrong Covell wrote in 1982 “The Johnsons might be called the First Family in town as they built the finest house… All were well bred, handsome and intelligent. Their greatest fascination was their baby girl twins. He built the sump pump that fed water to the almost futile fire hose. To him is also credited the Odd Fellows HaIl. They left town about the same time we did… Mr. Johnson died early of silicosis and I’ve been told Mrs. Johnson, who rode in a chauffeur driven limousine in Oakland was too generous with her money for her own good. The house still stands sturdily. I was taken to see its well proportioned rooms not long ago.

Not only did the Johnsons have the finest home in Alleghany – they also had a fine home in Berkeley. The Morning Union of November 9, 1911 gave the following headline “H. L. Johnson Buys Lots at Berkeley Will Erect Magnificent Mansion on Sightly Tract Soon – Gives Grand View of Bay Section – Johnson Family Will Have One of Finest Homes Around Berkeley.” This grand house still stands in the Claremont area of town. The townspeople of Alleghany gave Mr. and Mrs. Johnson a “beautiful silver loving cup” upon their moving to Berkeley.

After Johnson’s death in 1918, his widow sold their Alleghany mansion to James and Mamie Swan, and the home has had a few more owners over the years. The home still stands to this day, though the wooden fence and sidewalks are long gone.

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