If you imagine small-town America in the 1950s, it would probably look like Mount Vernon, Ohio. A tidy Main Street with family-run retail stores and colorful, familiar characters. A sophisticated local crowd driving stylish automobiles to restaurants, churches and clubs. GIs returning from World War II and starting families. Robust industries transforming life into a humming post-war economy and growing suburbs pushing into bountiful farmland. Children walking to and from school under protective elm canopies. Parents and children flocking to the county fair as the summer’s highlight. Stately homes from the past and modern designs for the future.
This was the comfortable and predictable community of Mount Vernon, in Knox County, nearly smack in the center of Ohio, which I knew as a young Baby Boomer. Mount Vernon’s picture-perfect status was official — in 1944 it was named a “Typical Small American City” by the U.S. State Department.
My father, Vernon P. Johnson, documented Mount Vernon in the 1950s as a watercolor artist. He arrived in 1946, married my mother Marcia Hall and identified deeply with the community’s values. “The State Department saw here vigorous and diversified commerce and industry, rich agricultural practice, an alert educational system, genuine community government,” according to a Chamber of Commerce brochure that he illustrated. “They looked for qualities not easily photographed — self respect, thriftiness, industriousness, democracy. They found these qualities…in Mount Vernon.” I first stumbled upon Dad’s visual legacy about Mount Vernon in 2006, a year and a half after he died.
I invite you to learn more about how I developed my father’s, my family’s and small town America’s story of the 1950s. It’s a personal yet a universal story for us Baby Boomers, our children and others who are curious about or fascinated by the Retro 1950s. I created this blog as a community site for us to share our stories.