The Fred J. Johnston Museum
The elegantly furnished c. 1812 Federal style house on the corner of Wall and Main Streets is the culmination of the taste and vision of one man: Fred J. Johnston. An antiques dealer who attained national stature. Johnston spent more than 60 years assembling the outstanding collection of 18th and early 19th century furnishings and decorative arts displayed in the eight rooms of the historic house he rescued in 1937. (Read more below.) He used the house as both his home and showroom.
A Singular “Shopping Experience”
When customers of Fred J. Johnston wanted to find antique furnishings for their home, he took them on a tour of the eight rooms in the historic house. In each, they could view antiques in actual room settings artfully designed by Johnston By demonstrating how pieces from the past can be incorporated into a beautiful but comfortable décor, Johnston wished to demythologize antiques. If a client liked a piece in Johnston’s drawing room or a bedroom, they were allowed to buy it. It was truly a singular shopping experience. Get a taste of the experience on a guided tour.
Guided tours of the Johnston House are offered May-October, Friday-Saturday, 11-4; Sunday by appointment. Fee: $5 adult; $2 child under 16. Special tours for groups or individuals can be arranged at any time. (845) 339-0720.
….a warm thank you for how welcome my group felt on Saturday. Everyone who took the tour of the Johnston House raved about it! The tour was as lively as the house. It was not a museum we visited but a house and several of us imagined ourselves living there ! It is truly a unique experience to visit the Fred J. Johnston House. Christian Betheuil, New York City
A Visit to the Johnston House
A visit to the Johnston House today is very much like the intimate experience his clients enjoyed. With a small group of visitors, you’ll view each room and hear about the notable objects it contains from your guide. Mindful of how the masterly can be combined with the mundane, Johnston successfully combined the most valuable with the most modest objects. Your eye is led from one piece to the next by Johnston’s artistry in using colors, repeating them in the manner of musical notes that blend many elements into a beautiful harmony. The total experience is an immersion in the beauty and connoisseurship of our material past.
The Johnston House exceeded my expectations and more. What a treasure! I have seen many historic houses but none, in my opinion, equal the Johnson House—from the size, structure and layout of the rooms to its rich and wonderful contents. I must come back for another visit or two because there was too much to comprehend, digest and fully appreciate in a single tour.” C. Bousliman
A “Small Winterthur on the Hudson”
The Johnston Collection contains exemplary pieces of case furniture – cabinets, secretaries and chests – as well as Hudson Valley chairs, American glassware and pottery, and pictorial needlework from female seminaries. The pieces range from the 17th to the early 19th centuries with an emphasis on the Federal style, reflecting how American homes were furnished during that period. There are also several sketches by noted artist and Kingston native John Vanderlyn. Henry F. DuPont, a close friend and early mentor of Fred J. Johnston, called the house and collection “a small Winterthur on the Hudson.”
Fred J. Johnston 1911-1993
Antiquarian and Preservationist
Forced by “hard times” to leave school in grade 10, Fred Johnston went to work in a local factory, the Fessenden Shirt Co. Despite the bleak environment in which he spent his days, Johnston nursed the dream of someday becoming an antiques dealer surrounded by beautiful pieces from the past for which, even as a teenager, he already had a passion. He used the family garage as a showroom for the antiques he had begun collecting.
Johnston opened his first shop with a partner in a basement at 42 Main Street in uptown Kingston just one block from the handsome house he would one day own. But sales were modest and the business relationship deteriorated.
In 1936, a part-time draftsman’s job with restoration architect Myron Teller led to his meeting Henry. F.du Pont who was searching for period furnishings and architectural parts for his new Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Impressed by Johnston’s aesthetic sensibilities, du Pont made him one of the first consultants to Winterthur where Johnston ultimately furnished several period rooms. He also introduced Johnston to leading collectors, launching his career as an antiques dealer on a national scale.
Throughout his life, Johnston advocated for maintaining landscapes important to community heritage and visual beauty.
He was instrumental in creating the City of Kingston’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and served as its first chair. He played a critical role in preserving the historical integrity of the Stockade National Historic District in uptown Kingston.
A Dream Becomes a Legacy
The landmarked Federal style clapboard house was built circa 1812 as the fashionable residence of New York State Senator John Sudam (1782-1835), a prominent attorney, New York State Senator and Regent. The house hosted Washington Irving and U.S. President Martin Van Buren, close friends of Sudam.
In the 1880’s, it was sold to the Van Leuven family, whose descendants decided in 1938 to sell the house for commercial use. Although it was in a deteriorated condition, Fred J. Johnston had a passionate desire to preserve the house to save it from demolition and prevent the site from becoming a gas station, Struggling to make his fledgling antiques business profitable, Johnston, nevertheless, convinced a local bank to lend him the money to buy the house. He devoted the remainder of his life to restoring it, leaving the Federal style exterior totally intact and making only unobtrusive changes to the interior. Under his stewardship, the handsome clapboard house attained historic landmark status as well as becoming a visual landmark in the Stockade National Historic District of uptown Kingston.
When Johnston died in 1993, he handed the stewardship of his house to the Friends of Historic Kingston. In fulfilling our mission, we have preserved the integrity of this unique preservation story by displaying the house and its contents just as they were left by him.