Old Fort Johnson


Story: Nolan Cool
Photography: Nolan Cool
Saturday, February 16, 2019

It’s a fort… er, well, a home! It’s more like a “fortified home.” Old Fort Johnson is a bit of both!

This elegant limestone mansion was constructed on the banks of the Mohawk River in 1749 for William Johnson, a prominent Anglo-Irish immigrant trader and cross-cultural power broker. Although primarily functioning as a residence, it received its’ “fort” status due to the ample fortifications that Johnson had added to the Georgian mansion. Apart from thick stone walls, outlying buildings promised relative security during increased French and Indian attacks during the Seven Years War. During this time, the Mohawk Valley experienced rapid changes in its ethnic and demographic make-up. British and Mohawk (one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy) identities often blended in places like Fort Johnson; settlers like Johnson became an accepted member of the Mohawk nation through close trading, and military and diplomatic ties with his indigenous neighbors. Fort Johnson played host to several Iroquois Council meetings as well. Diverse peoples, goods, and fine wine all flowed through its doors during the eighteenth century.

In 1756, just a few years after Old Fort Johnson’s completion, William became “Sir” William after his victory over French forces at the Battle of Lake George a year prior. While at Fort Johnson, the frontier diplomat became a New York Baronet and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Johnson lived here until 1763, when workers completed his fourth and final home farther north at Johnson Hall, now a State Historic Site in Johnstown, New York. His son, John, inherited and lived in Fort Johnson until he fled as a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War. His illustrious father died in 1774, after which his reputation, like his home, was spared during the war in the Mohawk Valley. A few local families lived in the home during the nineteenth century, until the Montgomery County Historical Society (MCHS) formed in the early 1900s and bought the house to preserve it.

Today, Old Fort Johnson remains the home of the MCHS. Although a small organization, its’ knowledgeable and devoted members preserve the house as a core educational set piece of the Mohawk Valley, recounting the story of the Johnson family, the complexities of the region’s colonial past, and hosts accessible events for its friends and neighbors. The small staff and their attention to detail illustrates that devoted folks running small-shop nonprofits rely on the trust of its visitors, and the informative, fun, and uniquely personal experiences that one may have upon visiting Old Fort Johnson are always memorable as a result of its welcoming staff. Trust goes a long way in small museums, and create personal relationships that often transcend the site itself, allowing visitors to create meaning during their visit, and close friends as well. From informative, tailored tours of the home and its several authentic Johnson family collections, to its airy stone interior, to a number of Tavern Nights and historical films on the lawn and in the garden, the MCHS keeps Old Fort Johnson truly alive.

Information
Old Fort Johnson National Historic Landmark
2 Mergner Road, Fort Johnson, NY 12070
museum@oldfortjohnson
www.facebook.com/oldfortjohnson
Admission: $4.00 for adults. Free for children under 12.
Open: Mid-May–Mid-October
Wednesday–Saturday, 10:00 AM–4:00 PM, Sunday 1:00–5:00 PM

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