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Talk of the Town

Late author Annie Fellows Johnston made Pewee Valley famous

Historical marker dedication event
planned at her former home

PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. (March 2017) – Even though she penned more than 40 books, Annie Fellows Johnston will always be remembered as the author of The Little Colonel series of children’s books. A Pewee Valley, Ky., transplant, she fell in love with the quaint, nostalgic atmosphere of the town and immortalized it in her writings.

March 2017 Cover

“Johnston was one of the first children’s authors whose books achieved international acclaim. The series was translated into over 20 different languages by the early 20th century,” said Nancy Stearns Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center in La Grange, Ky. The newly re-opened Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum, located on the History Center’s campus in La Grange, contains an exhibit on Johnston and Pewee Valley.
“The Little Colonel series was based on the real people and places in Pewee Valley in Oldham County,” said Theiss.
“Johnston used fictitious names for the places and people, but she disclosed the real people in several of her publications. Over the years, Pewee Valley has been somewhat of a tourist attraction for Little Colonel fans who have traveled to see the actual sites described in the book.”
In an effort to remember Johnston’s tremendous success as a writer, the Oldham County Historical Society is teaming with Oldham County Tourism and the Kentucky Historical Society to place an historical marker in Pewee Valley near Johnston’s home, The Beeches. A public ceremony is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 29, at 125 Central Ave. in Pewee Valley.
Scheduled speakers include Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele, Pewee Valley Mayor Bob Rogers and Pewee Valley Historical Society member Donna Russell. The marker unveiling is free and open to the public.

Annie Fellows Johnston State Historical Marker Dedication

Wednesday, March 29, in Pewee Valley, Ky.

• 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.: Special free exhibit open to public at Pewee Valley Museum inside Town Hall, 312 Mt. Mercy Dr.
• 11:15 a.m.: Marker unveiling (free to public) at The Beeches, 125 Central Ave., with remarks by Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele, Pewee Valley Mayor Bob Rogers and Pewee Valley Historian Donna Russell
• Noon: Celebration at 314 Exchange, 314 Mt. Mercy Dr. next to Town Hall.  Presentation on Johnston by Little Colonel expert and Western Kentucky University Associate Professor Sue Lynn McDaniel.

Tickets $30 for Oldham County Historical Society members; $35 non-members. RSVP required at (502) 222-0826.

At noon, a luncheon and program will follow at 314 Exchange, located at 314 Mt. Mercy Dr. A presentation about Johnston will be given by Sue Lynn McDaniel, an associate professor and Special Collections Librarian at Western Kentucky University.
Cost for the luncheon and program is $30 for society members and $35 for non-members. Reservations are required since seating is limited.
“Annie Fellows Johnston made Pewee Valley famous with The Little Colonel series,” said Russell. “While the town was a popular summer playground for Louisville’s elite from the 1880s and early 1900s, it was Annie Fellows Johnston who made it famous around the world.” In her books, the town became Lloydsboro Valley.
Russell said that “like many authors, she drew on her own experiences when writing.” Johnston used real people and places in Pewee Valley in addition to “other places she lived in Arizona and Texas. Her home, The Beeches, became a mecca for her legions of fans, who came from around the world to see firsthand the places she wrote about in her books.”
The Beeches, where the historical marker will be placed, was purchased in 1911 by Johnston from her friend, Mamie Craig Lawton, according to Theiss.

Historical photo courtesy of the Oldham County Historical Society

This historical photo shows author Annie Fellows Johnston with Hattie Cochran, the real life model for The Little Colonel character.

“Annie lived in the home with her stepdaughter, Mary G. Johnston, until their respective deaths in 1931 and 1966.”
Even this stately home made it into The Little Colonel books. The home had been built in 1902 by Mamie Lawton, widow of Major Gen. Henry Ware Lawton, an American war hero who was killed in 1899 in the Philippines.
The Pewee Valley Museum, located inside Town Hall at 312 Mt. Mercy Dr., will showcase a special exhibit dedicated to Johnston and The Little Colonel. Admission is free and the museum will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on March 29.
Russell said display items will include The Little Colonel’s baby buggy, Johnston’s yellow powder box and walking stick (on loan from Suzanne Schimpeler), a Little Colonel board game and Johnston’s writing desk (on loan from the Herdt family), in addition to many other items.
Annie Julia Fellows was born on May 15, 1863, near Evansville, Ind., during the Civil War. Her father, Albion Fellows, a Methodist minister, died when she was only 2 years old. Her mother, Mary Erskine Fellows, was left to raise her brother, Erwin, and two sisters, Lura and Albion, on a farm in McCutchanville, Ind. Johnston later credited her mother with instilling in her a love for books.

Historical photo courtesy of the Oldham County Historical Society

Annie Fellow Johnston is pictured at her home, The Beeches.

In 1888, she married her second cousin, William Levi Johnston (Feb. 5, 1847 - Feb. 8, 1892), a druggist. Born in Vanderburg County, Ind., William received a bachelor of science degree from De Pauw’s Asbury College of Liberal Arts in 1869.
During the Civil War, William joined the Union and was of a select group known as the “One Hundred Days” volunteers. He served in the 136th Regiment, Co. F. In 1864, his company was sent to Tennessee. There, they guarded the Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee and Alabama, and Memphis and Charleston railroad lines. Within eight months of applying for his Civil War pension, William had succumbed to tuberculosis.
William’s first wife, Hallie Eaves, had died of consumption in 1883, leaving him with three small children – Mary Gardner (1872-1966), Rena (1877-1899) and John Eaves (1881-1910).
The children were partially raised by their uncle, Albert W., and aunt, Lurena Ingram (Eaves) Burge, Hallie’s sister, in their lavish Pewee Valley home, Delacoosha.
The Burges introduced them to a more glamorous lifestyle to which they were accustomed, including live-in servants, carriage rides, parties, lawn tennis, picnics and many society events. In turn, the stepchildren introduced Johnston to the area. When she turned to writing to support herself and them after the death of her husband, Johnston knew she had the perfect setting for her novels in the quaint little town of Pewee Valley.
The main character was based upon a fiery little 5-year-old known locally as “The Little Colonel.” In actuality, The Little Colonel was Hattie Cochran. Her grandfather, known as the “Old Colonel,” and the era in which he lived, made as much of an impression on Johnston as did Cochran.

Photo by Don Ward

A new exhibit on The Little Colonel novels is part of the newly renovated Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum in La Grange.

She immortalized them both in her novels. Col. George Washington Weissinger was a Confederate veteran.
Mary Gardner Johnston was 15 when her father married Johnston. After his death, Johnston and the children continued to live in Evansville for five years. In September 1897, Mary and her sister, Rena, were living in Pewee Valley with the Burges. Johnston had enrolled John in the nearby Highland Park military school.
To earn extra income, Johnston went on a European tour working as a companion, governess and chaperone for a young lady. By 1898, Johnston had moved back to Pewee Valley to be with the children, and they moved into The Gables. A year later, Rena, 21, fell ill with appendicitis. Six days later, she died after having an operation.
By this time, John suffered from consumption, the disease that killed both of his parents. He and Johnston moved to New York, Arizona and California, finally settling in Texas in 1905 for his health. Mary stayed behind in Pewee Valley.
John had fought tuberculosis for 10 years. He died while living in Boerne, Texas. Johnston had purchased a home she named Pen Acres, but upon John’s death, Mary persuaded her to return to Pewee Valley in 1911.
Johnston bought a home known as The Beeches, which today is a private residence. Mary, who became an artist and created some of the artwork for her stepmother’s books, was the only surviving stepchild who moved into the home with Johnston. After Johnston’s death on Oct. 5, 1931, Mary “worked to protect her stepmother’s legacy,” said Russell. Johnston is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville.
“Annie’s legacy helped keep certain things from happening that would have ruined Pewee Valley,” Russell said. She cited a 1937 incident as a prime example: The state wanted to erect a new women’s prison on the site of the former Kentucky Confederate Home in downtown Pewee Valley.
“Citizens protested, and a big part of their argument was that “the home of the Little Colonel” would become the “Home of Kentucky’s Women Convicts.” Their argument and protests won the day with the governor, who decided instead to build the new prison in Shelby County. Annie’s stepdaughter, Mary, was heavily quoted in the newspaper and helped lead the fight.”
Russell continued, saying that The Little Colonel stories were also the inspiration for the name for the town’s community theater, the Little Colonel Playhouse and the Little Colonel Players. Pewee Valley in 2002 renamed the Town Square “Annie Fellows Johnston Square.”
And after all these years, Johnston is still a tourist attraction. “Her books attracted a lot of tourists here for many, many years,” Russell said. The Pewee Valley Historical Society still receives occasional calls for Little Colonel tours from scholars and individuals, even though the books have been out of print for years.”
Another reason for the popularity of The Little Colonel books was the 1935 Twentieth Century Fox movie starring Shirley Temple as the Little Colonel and Lionel Barrymore as her grandfather.

• To read more about Annie Fellows Johnston, visit: www.LittleColonel.com.

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