Three men named Benjamin Franklin who who helped colonize three communities in Utah County

Submitted by Keith Lawrence
Benjamin Franklin Johnson (1818-1905)

In 1852 Benjamin Franklin Johnson—whose eldest brother was Joel Hills Johnson, Latter-day Saint hymn writer—led out in settling Spring Lake.  Benjamin F. was taught the gospel and baptized by Lyman E. Johnson (no relation and one of original Twelve Apostle and one who was excommunicated) in 1835.  Benjamin F. later became a private secretary to Joseph Smith and was a member of the Council of Fifty.  Benjamin was taught the principle of plural marriage by the Prophet Joseph himself, and he would eventually have eight wives and nearly fifty children.

In 1852 Johnson moved his then six wives and nine children to a new home near a small, spring-fed lake and helped form a small community sandwiched between present-day Santaquin and Payson.   At Spring Lake Johnson built a two-story home constructed of adobe which his neighbors dubbed the Mud Castle.  Johnson’s family knew it as Spring Lake Villa.  It eventually contained eighteen to twenty large rooms, and, from 1861 to 1865, it housed the polygamous family of Benjamin’s older brother, Joseph Ellis Johnson.  In 1863 Joseph initiated The Farmer’s Oracle, the first newspaper published in , while still residing with Benjamin’s family

Not only was Benjamin Franklin Johnson the founder of Spring Lake, but he was also the first branch president of Santaquin and retained that calling after moving to Spring Lake and during his mission to the Hawaiian Islands; he was not released until his return in 1855.

Lake Shore had been a part of the Spanish Fork Indian Farm Reservation from 1854 until 1865.  The first Latter-day Saint white settlers began arriving in 1860 as the Indians were leaving.  All of these white settlers were from nearby Spanish Fork and were led by Benjamin Franklin Barney who is credited with being the community’s founder.

Benjamin Franklin Barney (1832-1904)

Benjamin Franklin Barney was born March 12, 1832 in Springfield, Illinois.  Before coming to Utah, he lived at Council Bluffs and upon arrival in Utah, first settled at Provo, but soon moved to Spanish Fork where his first child was born.  Brother Barney proved to be something of a rolling stone, moving rather often before homesteading at Lake Shore.  He was also a veteran of both the Black Hawk and Walker Indian Wars and as a polygamist spent some time at the Territorial prison at Sugar House.

Under Barney’s direction, at the new settlement, 1.5 miles south of Benjamin, a square fort was built enclosing one acre of land.  Its walls were nine feet tall and four feet thick at the base.

The Spanish Fork West Branch was formed in 1880 of the twenty-five families living there.  By 1886 the population of Lake Shore had grown to a few hundred, and the Lake Shore Ward was created.

Benjamin Franklin Barney died on December 7, 1904 at Elsinore, Utah and was buried at Monroe, Utah.

Benjamin Franklin Stewart (1817-1885)

The first Saints to attempt to establish farms at Benjamin arrived in 1863 and 1864.  Other men from Payson and Spanish Fork were attracted by the rich soil and abundant water.  A third Benjamin Franklin and the man for whom the town would be named—Benjamin Franklin Stewart and others–soon followed.

In 1868 Abraham Smoot and Elijah Sheets visited the settlement and ordained Benjamin Franklin Stewart as the settlement’s first presiding elder.   About this time the town was named for Benjamin as he organized and led out in creating the town’s infrastructure.  The farms were cleared of greasewood, planted to crops, roads were laid out, bridges, fences and a canal from the Spanish Fork River, necessary to water the crops, were all built.  To procure culinary water, Stewart dug the first artesian well in the area; he opened one of the first small stores, and he also became the town’s first justice of the peace in 1872 when Benjamin was made a precinct.

Benjamin Franklin Stewart passed away in June, 1885 after being struck by lightning.  He was one of the first buried in the Benjamin City Cemetery, located on a site he himself had chosen.

Three Benjamin Franklins: Johnson, Barney and Stewart who helped found three Utah County towns– Spring Lake, Lake Shore and Benjamin—what a legacy!

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