Treasure in a Box

An excerpt from our June 2018 newsletter …

The Oldest House had a recent visit from Key West’s Mark Langley. He donated a cardboard box to OIRF, full of historical treasures. So, what was Mark Langley’s connection to the Watlington/Johnson family home?

In 1972, Mark’s father Wright Langley was a writer for the Miami Herald, and had been with the Key West Citizen. He loved to learn and write about history. On a visit to 322 Duval St. with ten year old Mark tagging along, he was invited to go through the house and take some things that interested him. The packed box was then stored in his home on Margaret Street from 1972 until present day.

The box was filled with photos from the 1800s, documents, writings, and items collected by Earle S. Johnson, (the last of the blood line to live at 322 Duval). It includes a journal kept by William H. Ward, who was husband to young Emeline Watlington from 1858 until his death during the Civil War. There is a diary from a third generation of the family, a couple of dozen “cartes de visite” photos of unknown persons from the Civil War era, a love letter written by Steve Douglass, the young suitor of May Johnson, and other curious items too numerous to mention.

Since receiving this wonderful gift from Mark Langley, we have been carefully going through all the photos and other items. Many of the photos are in need of restoration. All of the items need to be digitized and correctly preserved. Our volunteer historian Karl Reutling and Andy Herdan are seeking expert help for this process. Monroe County Historian Tom Hambright has been consulted.

Among the photos is our first real look at Emeline Matilda Johnson Watlington, mother of the nine daughters! There are photos of several of those daughters, as well as sons-in-law to the Watlingtons, with an emphasis on Mary Amanda Watlngton’s family. These photos trace the lineage of Earle S. Johnson. Apparently Earle was spending considerable effort at reconstructing his heritage and genealogy during the 1960s. All of this material, taken together, will enable us to be more accurate in interpreting the history of this family to visitors of the Oldest House. A wonderful gift indeed.

As an example, there is a single piece of paper which is a statement from a pharmacy. With our understanding of already known facts, this piece of paper tells a fascinating story of three generations of the family:

The Statement on Account is from a pharmacy named “Charles. S. Johnson & Co. Dr.”, 109 Duval Street, Key West, Fla. and dated 10/1/1902. It documents purchases from July through September by customer E. Earle Johnson. They include some prescriptions, and several over the counter items. Most every item can be related to symptoms of labor, child birth, and associated discomforts. Listed are purchases of bottle nipples and a breast pump. Someone had a baby!

Here are the facts: Mary Amanda Watlington, the sixth of nine daughters of Francis and Emeline Watlington, 322 Duval St., married pharmacist Dr. Charles S. Johnson in 1867. In 1874 They had a son, Edwin Earle Johnson, their fourth of six children. Around 1900 E.Earle Johnson married Nellie Blanche Saunders, and on 21 August 1902 they had a son named Earle Saunders Johnson. So, this statement from the family’s pharmacy covers items needed by E. Earle and Nellie concerning the birth of Earle S. Johnson. What an artifact to keep and for us to find! Tragically and almost unbelievably, E.Earle Johnson would die just two weeks later while working as an electrician, on 15 October 1902. The picture below may well have been taken at the funeral of E.Earle Johnson, with Lillie Watlington in mourning dress, holding baby Earle Johnson.

This story is from one piece of paper in a box full of photos and papers. Photos will be displayed in the Oldest House as they are restored and framed. There will be more stories forthcoming from these treasures, and we look forward to sharing the history with everyone.


– Karl Reutling, May 2018