Secret Haven for Rock Hounds
Polk County Enterprise, August 2007
by James E. Baugh
Indian Springs couple’s love for rocks, jewelry-making draws visitors from around the globe to Polk County
Nestled in the piney woods of Indian Springs on a red dirt road, Johnson’s Rock Shop is a budding geologists’ dream and a jewelry lover’s treasure trove.
Otis and Margie Johnson have run their little “village” of shops behind their home for the last 35 years and despite its rural hideaway has visitors from all over the world.
Otis Johnson remembers growing up in Madisonville in the early 1930s and collecting pieces of petrified wood on property owned by his grandmother and uncles. Those long ago days were the beginnings of a lifelong obsession with rocks.
After a tour in the Navy, Otis married his sweetheart Margie Taylor and went to work in Port Arthur, building his new bride a log home by hand.
In the 1960s Otis was inspecting a post office remodeling job when the ceiling fell and threw him from the scaffolding. He broke his neck in two places and fractured his skull. After nearly five years of recovery, Otis was forced to retire and he and Margie moved to property they had purchased in Indian Springs.
It took nine years, but Otis built their home from scrap lumber — some of which was salvaged from an old Catholic school building.
The rock collection Otis had been building since his youth in Madisonville was now too big for their living room so they built a small building behind their house for his “babies”.
Since the construction of that first building, Otis and Margie have added seven buildings to house and display their amazing collection of rocks and gemstones from around the world.
There are individual buildings devoted to crystals and geodes, fossils and seashells.
There is a little museum where the Johnsons display some of their most prized finds.
One specimen is the most valuable petrified palm tree in the world which was found in Corrigan, Johnson said.
There’s also a silversmith’s shop and all the supplies needed to tumble and cut rocks and assemble jewelry.
Johnson has tons of rock including petrified woods, a huge collection of amethyst, jade, lapis lazuli, jasper from the South American rain forest and Brazilian agates. He has a table full of rose quartz, an antique cast iron tub full of polished rocks, bins and wheelbarrows full of geodes ready to crack open and ammonite fossils from Morocco.
This list is just a sampling of the hundreds of varieties to be found in bins, nooks, crannies and displayed on shelfs throughout the compound. One can also find a stunning array of jewelry – many handmade by Otis or Margie – and gift items – from chess sets to paperweights.
Currently on display —and worth the trip to Indian Springs — are two huge amethyst cathedral geodes from Brazil that Johnson purchased recently for a client. The pair is some 15 to 20 million years old and are actually a geode within a geode, a rare find, according to Johnson. The pair will be on display for approximately the next six weeks before shipment to their new owner.
Not only are the stones from around the world, but so are the visitors. A glance at the guest book revealed travelers from as far away as Germany, England and Australia and nearly every state in the union. And that’s just the most recent guests.
The global range of travelers is even more amazing when you learn that Johnson does no advertising other than a few brochures at the Chamber of Commerce. Word of mouth and mentions in several travel guides are responsible for the steady stream of visitors to this unique destination.
Johnson’s third love – after his family and his rocks – is music. He began writing poetry and songs in the 1950s and recently recorded his first CD of original music. Johnson expects to have his music available for sale after the first of the year.
Johnson’s Rock Shop is located in Indian Springs off Highway 190, east of Livingston, and is open seven days a week.