Section: Features

Inside Johnny Appleseed’s surprising Knox County roots

This year, Knox County had not one, but two events celebrating the American legend, Johnny Appleseed. From Mount Vernon’s Johnny Appleseed Festival on Oct. 6 to Apple Valley’s Oct. 14 Johnny Appleseed Bazaar, the folk hero is clearly a ripe topic in autumn. Mount Vernon even has an Ohio Historical Marker dedicated to him at the intersection of Phillips Street and Main Street (Ohio state Route 13). But who exactly was Johnny Appleseed and why does Knox County love him so much? 

Born John Chapman in 1774, Johnny Appleseed was, in fact, a real person who introduced apple trees to parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia and present-day Ontario, Canada. Though the mythos surrounding him often imagines him as a barefoot man scattering apple seeds behind him wherever he walked, Johnny Appleseed actually created organized nurseries of apple trees as a way to feed people moving west. According to the Knox County Historical Society, “Many of these orchards were established throughout central Ohio, especially around Mount Vernon, Coshocton, Mansfield, Ashland and Wooster.”

Johnny Appleseed was also a prominent member of the Mount Vernon community. Until 1828, he owned the lot now occupied by the tire store at 401 South Main St., as well as the westward lot near the Kokosing River, according to the Knox County Recorder’s Office. Rumor has it that Johnny Appleseed even voted in Mount Vernon’s first election in 1806. According to the Knox County Historical Society, “When he needed a new supply of apple seeds, he would walk from Mount Vernon to Pittsburgh, then fill several canoes with sacks of seeds, lash the canoes together, then travel down the Ohio River to Marietta, up the Muskingum River to Zanesville, then up the Walhonding and Kokosing back to Mount Vernon [—] quite a trip, indeed!”

In 1828, Johnny Appleseed sold the lot on South Main St. to Jesse Burgess Thomas, a well-known national politician at the time, so he could move to western Ohio, where he died near Fort Wayne in 1845. His Knox County connection serves as a reminder that it’s always exciting to take a bite out of local history!

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