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Texas man’s restoration of homestead draws fans on Facebook

January 17, 2019

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (AP) — For most of Joel Johnson’s life the old ranch-style house sitting just past the Nacogdoches City limits on Woden Road held a special allure.

The Daily Sentinel reports the home, its pasture, surrounding woods and outbuildings were where summers were spent picking and shucking peas, picking out canned goods to take back home or planning fishing trips. It was where his grandparents raised their six kids and, Johnson recalled, it was so crowded at Christmas time it was hard to move through the house.

When Johnson’s grandmother passed away in 2008, his uncle bought the property to keep it in the family and rented it out. The pasture, no longer home to sprawling watermelon or pea patches, grew up. The outbuildings were swallowed up by the steady march of East Texas vegetation.

But in the summer of 2018, Johnson found himself in a position to return to the old homestead, and since then, it’s become a project to bring it back to the place he remembers from his childhood.

That project has drawn attention from across the planet.

Johnson’s life moved along, taking him to Central Texas where he worked and launched the internet radio station American Crossroads Radio — a passion project mixing country music and Texas history and the values he grew up with.

“I didn’t really get away from my roots, but I wasn’t paying attention to them,” he said.

These days, he’s paying a lot of attention to those roots. A shake-up in his personal life in 2018 left Johnson looking to start again somewhere knew, so he called his uncle and asked about the house.

“I just kind of landed here,” he said. “Three days later we moved in.”

The property had been in his family’s hands since 1945, but the home was built in 1925, according to Nacogdoches County Appraisal District records. It needed some work, but it was solid and livable.

Johnson, who’d leveraged social media to build his radio station got the idea to document his work restoring the old homestead and property through a Facebook page he named The Washboard Chronicles.

“I started The Washboard Chronicles just to show the family what was going on,” Johnson said.

In late April, Johnson began posting videos, talking about all the work that needed to be done to open the pasture up again and spruce up the 94-year-old home and to clean out the outbuildings.

Each video documented little snippets of his memories of the time he spent there as a boy and of his grandmother, the bits of Texas history and folk wisdom he’s picked up over the years.

People from as across the country, the Philippines and even Europe have watched the videos, in which Johnson muses on whatever topics come to mind throughout the days he spends working on the property.

Most of the work he does with hand tools, including plowing the now cleared pasture where he plans to expand his garden, which is often the source of the videos, and is itself part of the idea behind the work and The Washboard Chronicles.

“I’m taking my time and I’m thinking about things,” he said. “It’s a personal challenge of growth and stepping back from the goofiness that we live in today.”

Johnson said he thinks that’s why the project has gone so far beyond the family members that it was originally intended for: because it’s relatable and a break from the busyness of life for most people.

“Everybody can relate back to their grandmother and simpler times,” he said.

The people who watch the videos often send him messages or leave their own responses about how they feel what he’s said resonates with them.

In one video around Thanksgiving, Johnson reflected on what he had to be thankful for and what motivates people. One viewer said she cried watching the video, as it reminded her of the husband she had lost some years ago, the first holiday without him and the reasons that, though it was hard, she was still thankful.

“It blows my mind the messages I get,” he said.

Johnson said he isn’t sure what the future holds for him or the project, but that The Washboard Chronicles have so far marked something significant for him.

“It’s the least amount of money I’ve ever made in my life and I’ve never been happier,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind dying right here, to be honest.”

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Information from: The Daily Sentinel (TX), http://dailysentinel.com

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