Stonibrook was a large estate off Northampton Road in Peninsula, Ohio. The location was near what is now Blossom Music Center. Bill and Ann Johnson were a married African American couple who owned the 45-acre estate filled with evergreens and three inland lakes. Bill was a World War II veteran who returned to the United States after the war and worked as a physicist for the Atomic Energy Commission. His work for the AEC gave him the means to purchase the estate. The couple purchased the property sometime in 1957. In July of that year, the resort suffered destruction in an arson attack that appeared to be racially motivated.
The property is only mentioned once—in the July 13, 1957, edition of the Cleveland Call & Post. Tract records kept by local historians do not mention that the property was ever owned by the Johnsons. Despite the absence of the Johnsons from tract records, however, the Call & Post reported that the Johnsons purchased the property through Akron real estate agent Ed Griner. The property was comprised of lodges all furnished with electricity, and three inland lakes fed by spring water. The Johnsons planned to develop the property with $250,000, equivalent to about $2,400,000 in 2021. They intended to operate the estate as a summer camp for underprivileged Black youth. Months after the purchase of the property the Stonibrook was a target of arson on July 1, 1957. Call & Post reported the fire as a hate crime. Nearby, Cuyahoga Falls, nicknamed “Caucasian Falls,” was a known sundown town. An oral history collected by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park reports that the Ku Klux Klan had an office located off Northampton Road. Although Klan involvement is unconfirmed, there is a pervasive history of hate crimes in the area which must be considered.
After the fire, Bill Johnson told the Call & Post, “If I die I am going to make certain that this property is made available to Negro youth, who have no opportunity to attend a summer camp.” Bill Johnson believed that the Akron Beacon Journal deliberately sought to silence the arson story. He stated, “There was a complete newspaper blackout of the incident by Akron daily and other area newspapers.” Later in the article he commented, “I was told during the war that this was a fight for democracy overseas – well, I’m fighting for it right here at home now, and if necessary, they may come to call this Johnson’s tomb.” It is unclear what happened to the Johnsons, as this is the last time the couple appeared in the Call & Post. The family was never mentioned in the Akron Beacon Journal.
- Loewen, James W. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New York: Touchstone Press, 2005.
- Williams, Bob. “Mystery Fire Razes Negro Resort: Set Hate Blaze Damage At $30,000; Owner To Rebuild.” Call & Post. July 13, 1957.