The J. F. Johnson Lumber Company: The First One Hundred Years

For over a century, Johnson Lumber has been an integral part of the Maryland community, providing top-quality building materials and unparalleled customer service to its customers. 

With a rich history spanning more than 100 years, our company has weathered its fair share of challenges. Just like building a house though, a strong foundation can help you get through just about anything! As we continue to look back on the first 100 years of our company, we wanted to share some of the highlights of our history with you.

The Beginnings of the J.F. Johnson Lumber Company

The first-ever member of the Johnson family, Wilmer Johnson, came to Anne Arundel County in 1902. The family soon after established a sawmill at Johnson’s Mill Pond on the Wicomico River. Wilmer appointed his son, Joshua Fred Johnson, to operate the sawmill, which was erected in Anne Arundel County, where he produced lumber and pilings. In 1915, J. Fred purchased a large tract of chestnut timber near Glen Burnie where he moved his family and erected a new mill near the center of the growing town.

In 1921, J. Fred’s brother, Josiah Purnell Johnson, joined him in the business, and they incorporated the business under the name, “The J. F. Johnson Lumber Company” on August 25 of that year. The company quickly grew much larger and became ready to expand to a second location. In 1926, it was decided to buy the much larger and older Meredith Lumber Company, located at the foot of King George Street on the Annapolis industrial waterfront. Ferries to the Eastern Shore arrived and departed from the wharf there.

The J.F. Johnson Lumber Company From The Great Depression To The 50s

During the Great Depression, Johnson Lumber was successfully steered by its founders, J. Fred Johnson and J. Purnell Johnson, who continued to lead the company through the wartime years. 

They provided materials for residential developments and worked on several major projects, including the U.S. Naval Academy, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and the nuclear weapons Manhattan Project. The Annapolis lumber yard relocated in 1942. In 1945, Farinholt became President, serving until 1952. 

During his presidency, the company had a warehouse and appliance store in the 200 block of West Street. Wilmer M. Johnson, J. Fred Johnson’s son, became President in 1952, and the company suffered its only major fire the following year. 

Despite the DeGrange Lumber Company’s opening and subsequent competitive pressures, Johnson Lumber remained profitable throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The company struggled in the 1960s, especially in its Glen Burnie yard, but became profitable again when C. Carroll Lee became President in 1968. William (Bill) Johnson, Wilmer’s son, joined the company as Vice President during Carroll Lee’s presidency and was able to turn the Glen Burnie yard around by cutting expenses and attracting several large contractors.

From The 70s to the 90s: Changing Times For Johnson Lumber

In the 1970s, the company was forced to relocate its Glen Burnie yard due to eminent domain, and Bill Johnson negotiated an agreeable settlement from Anne Arundel County for the yard’s condemnation. The company then moved to Millersville and opened a new lumberyard in May 1975. 

Bob Johnson began working for the company in 1975 after graduating from the University of Miami in Florida. Bill Johnson served as President of Johnson Lumber from 1985 to 1994 and remained as Chairman of the Board until shortly before his death in December 1999. Bob Johnson took over as President in 1994. 

The company underwent many changes, including scaling back certain product lines and focusing more on contractors due to competition from national chain stores. The company has also formed subsidiaries to manage its real estate holdings and keep them productive by leasing to commercial tenants.

In 1985, he became the President of Johnson Lumber and continued to serve as Chairman of the Board until his death in 1999. During his tenure as President, many changes took place, such as the formation of the corporate office of the company, centralization of functions like credit and accounting, and the purchase of the company’s first computer system. However, the rise of national chain stores such as Home Depot and 84 Lumber led to a decline in the company’s do-it-yourselfer trade.

Moving Toward The Millennium: A Decade Of Challenges

To cope with this, the company scaled back certain product lines and focused on contractors. In anticipation of leaving Annapolis, a small satellite lumberyard was opened in Edgewater in 1996. Bob Johnson became the President in 1994 and Chairman of the Board in 1999. Several Vice Presidents served under him, including his father, Bill, and Stephen C. Rickert and David M. Glenn. 

The company formed a subsidiary limited liability company, The J. F. Johnson Lumber Company LLC, in 2006 to segregate the lumber business from activities as a landlord of commercial properties. Other subsidiaries were formed to manage the company’s real estate holdings and keep them productive by leasing to commercial tenants.

Manufacturing in its mill ceased, and the roof truss shop closed down in 1995, marking the end of Johnson Lumber’s manufacturing. The company focused on developing sales in engineered wood products, grew an outside sales force, and opened a satellite lumberyard called “Little Edgewater” in 1996. 

A committee was formed to explore a design for a “drive-thru lumberyard” in 1998, and architectural planning for the relocation to Edgewater began in 1999. Chuck Beall began the process of designing kitchens, and the company started selling cabinets, countertops, and accessories in 1999, which became a major portion of the company’s product line. 

The company’s business expanded by 2000, and it was decided that Little Edgewater’s lease should not be renewed. Construction of the new Edgewater drive-thru lumberyard, store, and office facility began in October 2001, replacing the Annapolis yard, which was soon after sold and redeveloped by an expansive four-story apartment complex called “Bell Annapolis on West.” 

Metal stack racks were custom-designed to handle heavy, fragile, and difficult-to-deliver items, and Moffett forklift trucks were utilized at customers’ job sites to unload their orders quickly and efficiently. Detailed plans for a new branch in Charlotte Hall were under development in 2004, but all expansion plans were put on hold by 2009 due to a downturn in sales caused by a severe economic recession.

Emerging Past The Recession Toward A Successful Future

After a down cycle, J.F. Johnson Lumber is experiencing a new business boom and is being guided by its Board of Directors. Johnson Lumber has been a cornerstone of the Maryland community for over 100 years. Throughout their history, they have faced many challenges, but their dedication to providing quality products and services to their customers has remained unwavering. 

With the support of our loyal customers and dedicated employees, we’ve made it through a few rough patches and emerged stronger. As we look toward the future, we remain as committed as ever to supporting our customers with their home repair, renovation, and remodeling needs.

We thank you for all of your support so far, and we look forward to continuing to serve Maryland for the next 100 years!

Related Posts