The Greenwood depicted in the black-and-white images is unrecognizable today.
Open pastures enclose small groups of cattle. Orchards grow in neat lines. A horse-drawn buggy bumps down a dirt road — one that has since become Howard Road, near one of the city’s busiest areas.
Much has changed in Greenwood since that picture was created in the late 19th century. Yet people passing down Howard Road in Greenwood today would still recognize the feature at the center of the image — the stately white farmhouse that has stood since the 1860s.
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“It’s a beautiful old farmhouse. It has those long, almost-to-the-floor windows. It still looks the same, even though there’s an addition on the back,” said Jeanie Underwood, a realtor for RE/MAX Results in Greenwood.
The image of the home is one of three that was donated to the Johnson County Museum of History in September, showcasing some of the earliest and most important homes in Johnson County at the time. The artwork was given to the museum by Pastor Gene and Helen Spencer, who had lived in the house on Howard Road until this year.
Used to illustrate the historic 1881 Atlas of Johnson County, the lithographs are important records of the county’s past, said Emily Spuhler, museum director.
“As a museum, we have over 58,000 artifacts in our collection. But in reality, we really don’t have that many artifacts from Greenwood,” she said. “It was nice to get these lithographs to have that historical connection to Greenwood.”
When the Spencers decided it was time to move into another home, they reached out to Underwood to help in the sale. She is a history buff, and was taken by the long heritage that the house had in Greenwood.
The structure was originally built around 1868 by James M. Howard, a Civil War veteran. He moved to the area from Switzerland County, and with his wife, Lydia, settled on a 140-acre farm.
Over time, he turned the property from a dilapidated mess to a beautiful estate, according to a passage in the Atlas of Johnson County.
“He found the place in impoverished conditions in all of its departments — buildings, fences as well as the soil. But years of toil and industry accomplish a great deal in beautifying and enriching one’s home, as his farm and buildings are living witness, for they present a handsome appearance,” reads a passage in the atlas.
The Atlas of Johnson County was one of many published by J.H. Beers & Co., a Chicago-based company that specialized in atlases and histories of individual counties. To add illustration the pages of text, the company solicited patrons from the county, and then artists created works depicting the properties of these patrons. Howard was one of those patrons.
“There were 28 farms in Johnson County who actually hired them, and it was the owner who paid the artist. Depending on how much they paid, that determined if they got their faces on there or their prized horse, things like that,” Underwood said.
The lithographs that belonged to Spencers had been framed and in the house through the different owners. Their home is the only one in Greenwood still standing from those that were included in the atlas.
When the new owners bought the home, they opted not to buy the lithographs. So Underwood suggested that the Spencers donate the illustrations to the museum.
The Johnson County Museum of History now has six of the 28 lithographs included in the 1881 atlas.
“When these were donated, it was recommended to the donors to give them to the museum, so it’s great that community relationships were being built and people are thinking of the museum to donate their artifacts from all over the county,” Spuhler said.
The lithographs are still being processed and cataloged, but the hope is that the framed illustrations will hang in the first floor, where people who visit the museum can see them, Spuhler said.