Fulton County

History comes to life in Colonial-era Johnstown home

Johnson Hall has been restored to the same condition it was in when the Johnsons were in residence.
The back of Johnson Hall.
The back of Johnson Hall.

Johnson Hall

Wade Wells still remembers the first time he visited Johnson Hall with his mother and brother in the summer of 1974, when he was 9.

Wells’ mother worked in a knitting mill, and during the summer she would take time off to take care of her two sons. He said she would often take them to historic sites, and Johnson Hall was the first one.

“I remember it distinctly,” said Wells. “I remember the sign, how magnificent the sign looked as we were driving up, and it was blue with gold lettering on it, and it made you feel that this was very important.”

Wells started volunteering as a tour guide 25 years ago, and since 2010 has been historic site manager at Johnson Hall, replacing the person who gave him his very first tour.

Johnson Hall was the home of Sir William Johnson, the largest single landowner and most influential individual in the Colonial Mohawk Valley. During the French and Indian War, Johnson served the British and was instrumental in negotiations with the Six Nations of Native Americans, which ensured their support for the British cause. He was wounded at the Battle of Lake George in 1755.

Following the war, he was made superintendent of Indian affairs, where he continued to be influential in dealings with Native Americans.

Johnson Hall dates to shortly before the Revolutionary War, and was the site of many important negotiations with Native Americans. Johnson died there in 1774, and the family remained in the home until they were forced to flee to Canada because of their loyalist beliefs.

Today, Johnson Hall has been restored to the same condition it was in when the Johnsons were in residence. Each room has been carefully recreated using an inventory of items that was taken following Johnson’s death. The walls, just as they were then, are decorated with both European and Native American accoutrements.

Wells said it was this melding of cultures that made Johnson Hall unique for the period.

“There was really a melding of cultures here at Johnson Hall,” said Wells.

A tour of Johnson Hall takes about an hour, and both floors of the house are shown.

Wells said a majority of the items are reproduction or period pieces. Most of the families’ possessions were seized and sold at auction during the revolution, but several items have found their way home.

A cane owned by Johnson leans against the fireplace in Johnson’s study. Paintings of Johnson and his son hang in two of the parlors, and a large, heavy, leather-bound ledger used to keep track of the families tenants sits where it would have then.

Wells said the staff often shifts the rooms around, just as they would have when the family was in residence. They want to make the house look like it is still in use.

“We want you to get the feeling that the family and their guests could have just walked out,” said Wells.

Johnson Hall is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Last tours begin at 4 p.m. There is also a guided tour of the grounds at 1 p.m. Saturdays.

The site will host a traditional Colonial Market Fair during regular hours Saturday and Sunday.

Here’s a link to all the stories we’ve written about fun things to do this summer. And share your ideas for Summer Days at www.dailygazette.com/summerdays or at [email protected]

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