Old Fort Johnson opens for season Saturday with new exhibit

Each year, the Montgomery County Historical Society opens up one of the homes of Colonial legend Sir

Each year, the Montgomery County Historical Society opens up one of the homes of Colonial legend Sir William Johnson.

But this year, the hand-laid stone building, in the Montgomery County village named after Johnson, is the only one of his two homes open to the public. Johnson Hall in Johnstown is closed.

Managers stress Old Fort Johnson, which has been standing for roughly 261 years, is not among more than a dozen state-run historic sites shut down because of New York state budget crisis.

The home, which served as a meeting place for Indians called in by Johnson to discuss local affairs, remains open because of the generosity of donors and the long-standing care of the county’s historical society, founded in 1904.

Despite difficult years, that ability to stand alone fosters a sense of accomplishment among trustees and managers at Old Fort Johnson, museum coordinator Alessa Wylie said.

“I think that’s always been a source of pride for the organization,” she said.

People have traveled long distances to view either of Johnson’s homes, often as part of research into the French and Indian War, in which he played a pivotal role, Wylie said.

“It’s really amazing how many visitors, who come from far away, know so much about him. In the last few years they’ve come specifically because they’re doing tours of French and Indian War sites. It’s one of few original French and Indian War sites that’s still around,” Wylie said.

It was from the fortified homestead at the intersection of today’s state routes 5 and 67 that Johnson and a band of Indians set out for Lake Saint Sacrament, routed the French and re-named the body of water Lake George.

Old Fort Johnson will be opening for the season Saturday with a new exhibit — “Woven through History.”

The event, to begin at 10 a.m., will feature demonstrations of weaving, sewing, dyeing and other work that went into the creation of textiles and clothing in the 1700s and 1800s.

One display will feature coverlets, the once-common bed-top covering woven both for utility and to display talent, which were woven from flax drawn from wool and colored with dyes brewed from roots, weeds and flowers.

On display will be several coverlets donated by the late Gene Valk, a master weaver who also will be honored in Saturday’s opening.

Valk donated a collection of coverlets hand-woven by Xavier Gartner in the early 1800s. The German weaver settled near Stone Arabia around 1832 and brought his father’s book of weaving patterns he used to reproduce blankets, coverlets and rugs for friends and neighbors, according to the historical society.

A host of demonstrations will be followed by remarks at 2 p.m. from guest speaker Marjie Thompson, coordinator of the Comlex Weavers “Early Weaving Books and Manuscripts” study group.

More information about the event can be found on the Internet at www.oldfortjohnson.org.

Categories: Schenectady County

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