Historical marker honors Westlake's first settler
The city of Westlake and the Westlake Historical Society held a special ceremony Sept. 15 at Evergreen Cemetery to unveil a historical marker commemorating the city’s first settler, Leverett Johnson, and his donation of land for the cemetery.
Johnson was one of the first to arrive in the part of Dover Township that is now Bay Village on October 10, 1810. In 1811, he was the first to clear land in now-Westlake, and built a log cabin for his new bride, Abigail Cahoon, at the present intersection of Porter and Center Ridge roads. Theirs was the first marriage in Dover.
Johnson served as an early township Justice of the Peace, treasurer and trustee, and was a five-term Ohio legislator. In 1820, he donated some of his land to establish Evergreen Cemetery. He died of pneumonia in 1856, at age 61. He and Abigail, along with many members of Westlake’s founding families, are buried at the cemetery.
In celebration of the city’s Bicentennial this year, an Ohio Historical Marker was commissioned to recognize Johnson’s contribution to the community. The impressive plaque stands near Johnson’s final resting place in Evergreen.
The evening ceremony featured a stirring invocation by Dave Pfister of the Westlake Historical Society, and remarks by historical society president Lysa Stanton, Mayor Dennis Clough, State Rep. Nan Baker and representatives from Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office and the Ohio Historical Society.
The unveiling ceremony offered a moment to pay tribute to Leverett Johnson, as well as to reflect on Westlake’s history and the many pioneers who have contributed along the 200-year journey.
Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Dave Pfister recited in his invocation, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”
Mayor Clough agreed, stating: “I think [Johnson] would be proud of the community that Westlake has become.”
“Another proud day in Westlake,” Clough added. “This will go down in history as well.”
Special guests of the ceremony were Ann Johnson Rathkamp and her daughter, Grace Rathkamp Danello, descendants of Leverett Johnson’s family. Ann is the great-great-granddaughter of Leonard Johnson, Leverett’s brother who settled in Elyria shortly after Leverett came to Dover.
Ann and Grace traveled from Virginia and North Carolina, respectively, to take part in the unveiling. The women have been researching their ancestry over the past several years, eventually tracing their lineage to Northeast Ohio. As the only known descendants of the Johnson family, they were the historical society’s first choice to perform the ceremonial unveiling of the historical marker.
Ann and Grace wrapped up their brief stay in the land of their ancestors with a visit to Rose Hill Museum in Bay Village. Carole Roske and Dave Tadych of the Bay Village Historical Society led them on a tour of the museum, pointing out photos and offering information about Leverett Johnson as well as the Porters and Smiths, surnames that they encountered often throughout the course of their genealogical search.