from Past and Present of Mahaska County, Iowa by Manoah Hedge The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. 1906
Hon. J. Kelly Johnson, lawyer, legislator and jurist, is numbered today among those whose professional records adorn the history of the bar of Iowa. A man of progressive ideas, fine attainments, high minded, making the most of his opportunities in life, Judge Johnson arose to a foremost place among the representatives of the legal fraternity and is said to have been one of the strongest and most able district judges of the state. A native of Greene county, Ohio, J. Kelly Johnson was born August 22, 1841, a son of Abijah and Elizabeth (Bailey) Johnson. The father was born in Warren county, Ohio, and married Elizabeth Bailey, a native of Virginia, by whom he had eight children: Sylvia B., J. Kelly, Micajah D., Rebecca O., Overton A., Warren C., A. Henry and Anna. The father was a farmer by occupation, and also engaged in merchandising and milling in Ohio. In 1854 he removed from the Buckeye state to Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he carried on mercantile pursuits and in 1865 he came to Iowa, where he engaged in merchandising for a number of years. In 1870 his wife died and in 1881 Mr. Johnson went to California to benefit his health, but death claimed him in the summer of 1882. Both he and his wife were members of the Society of Friends. When a youth of thirteen years J. Kelly Johnson accompanied his parents on their removal to Indiana and supplemented his preliminary educational privileges by study in Wabash College, and in Battle Ground Institute, therein completing his literary course. He afterward entered the law department of the Michigan University at Ann Arbor, where he attended one winter. In 1865 he came to Oskaloosa and entered the office of J. R. Barcroft as a law student. Subsequently he continued his studies in the law school at Des Moines and in 1867 was admitted to the bar. He then went to Eddyville, Iowa, where he formed a partnership with Henry N. Clements, a fellow- student at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Not long after taking up his abode in Eddyville he was appointed by the council of that village to the office of city attorney, which position he filled until his removal to Oskaloosa in 1868. Here he formed a law partnership with George W. Lafferty, with whom he continued actively in the practice of his profession until his election to the bench in 1883. In I869 he had been appointed city attorney and the next year was elected to the office, which position he filled for six years. Not only was he connected with the execution of the laws but also become a factor in framing them, for in 1879 he was chosen by popular suffrage to represent his district in the state senate and was a member of the eighteenth and nineteenth general assemblies of Iowa, acting as a member when the amendment for prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors was framed and submitted to the people. In the nineteenth general assembly he was chairman of the committee of the constitutional amendments. In 1882 he received his party's nomination of the sixth judicial district and in 1886 was re-elected on the republican ticket, at which time the democrat and greenback parties refused to put up a candidate against him. In 1890 he was re-nominated and re-elected. He continued upon the bench up to the time of his death, which occurred before the expiration of his third term. He was soon recognized as an able lawyer, thoroughly read in his profession, a faithful counselor and a fine speaker. His methods were well worthy of emulation and he enjoyed the highest confidence of his clients, so that his advancement in the profession was steady and sure. In the trial of a case he saw quickly every advantage and disadvantage, noted effects of any argument with remarkable rapidity and was recognized as combining to the fullest extent the qualities which go to make up a successful advocate. His course upon the bench was equally commendable and his position was indicated by the fact that the opposing parties would place no nominees in the field at the time of his second election. He was absolutely fearless in the discharge of his duties and favor could not tempt him from the straight path. He possessed a mind particularly free from judicial bias and he brought to his duties a most thorough knowledge of the law and of human nature, a comprehensive knowledge and calm and deliberate judgment. His decisions were models of judicious fairness, and he was of a type of the law that respects and protects, not condemns humanity. He was ardently devoted to his profession and was an orator of recognized ability. On the 27th of April, 1871, Judge Johnson was married to Miss Ann E. Gruwell, who was born in Columbiana county, Ohio, and is a daughter of Dr. J. P. Gruwell, also a native of the Buckeye state. She came of French ancestry, while her husband was of Scotch lineage. She is now living in Oskaloosa at the age of sixty-five years and is a member of the Society of Friends, to which Judge Johnson also belonged. Her father, Dr. John P. Gruwell, came to Iowa in 1870, and practiced his profession for a number of years, after which he returned to Ohio, where his death occurred. Judge and Mrs. Johnson had seven children, of whom, two died in infancy, the others being: Irving C., mentioned elsewhere in this work; Elizabeth, the wife of Fred W. Esgen, a wholesale grocer at Los Angeles, California; Carl, who is reading law with his brother Irving; Alice P., a teacher in the high school at Chariton, Iowa; and Emily, a student at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Judge Johnson was a genial, courteous gentleman, a pleasing, entertaining companion, and had many stanch and admiring friends among all classes of men. As an energetic, upright and conscientious lawyer, a jurist and a gentleman of attractive, social qualities, he stood high in the estimation of the entire community. He died in 1894, at the age of fifty-two years, and his life had been one of such signal serviceableness that his death was deeply deplored throughout the entire county.
Past and Present of Mahaska County, Iowa
Mahaska County, Iowa Genealogy