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Visitors step back in time at Johnstown Market Fair

Visitors step back in time at Johnstown Market Fair

'It’s an opportunity for people of the 21st century to tangibly touch the history of the 18th century'
Visitors step back in time at Johnstown Market Fair
Andrew Dench (left) and Grant Novotny of the 24th Regiment of Foot take a moment to chat Sunday.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Just a short walk from West State Street, one of the busier roadways through Johnstown, four men in full Revolutionary War soldier uniforms huddled around a steel cannon, which let out a thunderous boom, followed by a puff of white smoke.

A small crowd unplugged their ears, applauded and turned and walked toward an estate constructed in 1763.

The 18th Century Market Fair was held this weekend at the Johnson Hall State Historic Site in Johnstown. The event, which takes place every other year, included historical tours, period-accurate goods for purchase and demonstrations meant to educate visitors on life in Colonial times.

“It’s an opportunity for people of the 21st century to tangibly touch the history of the 18th century by having the ability to experience the activities of that time,” said Wade Wells, the historical site manager.


The Market Fair has been going on since 1984. It is based on the market fairs that Sir William Johnson would typically hold in the spring and fall at his property, starting in 1772. Hundreds of people attended the free fair, which took place Saturday and Sunday.

Many visitors were familiar with the Market Fair or had attended in the past, saying they liked hearing about the history of the Colonial era or seeing re-enactments.

Mark and Carol Miller, from Jamesville, Onondaga County, attended the fair for their first time on Sunday. The two had spent the weekend visiting the Saratoga battlefield and Ulysses S. Grant’s cottage in Saratoga County, and decided to stop in Johnstown. They said they were most interested in learning more about the site’s history, and seeing the wardrobe of the period.

One of the more popular demonstrations among families at the fair was the toys and games tent, which included stilts, rope for tug of war and hoop rolling. Others gathered in large numbers to see re-enactors fire a replica Revolutionary War-era cannon.

One of the newest and most popular displays took place in the estate’s slave quarters, where Lavada Nahon demonstrated open-hearth cooking techniques.

Wade said the types of vendors have evolved in the roughly 30 years since the Market Fair’s inception. In addition, as more research and information becomes available about the Colonial period, the items on display have improved.

“It’s allowed museums and living history sites like this one to expand our furnishings, clothing and other objects in ways that are much more accurate,” Wells said.

Different vendors had set up tents and stands around the property, and offered visitors the chance to look at or purchase Colonial-style shoes, clothing, leather goods, knives and more. Many of the vendors, all wearing period-appropriate garb, have been coming to the Market Fair for several years.

Nancy DiGregorio, who runs the R.J. Butternut leather goods shop, has made the trip to Johnstown for the past eight years from Jefferson, near Lake Ontario. Items in her tent included belts, weapons pouches, leather cases and more. Most of the objects are designed to be used by a Colonial-era soldier readying to go into battle, she said.

Joe Scott, who offered knives, powder horns and more on Sunday, has attended the fair over the past 20 years, he said, coming all the way from West Virginia.

“It’s a nice event, and gets a nice crowd of people,” he said of the Market Fair.

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