Johnson Joggers mix fitness and history

JOHNSTOWN – For runners in the Second Annual Johnson Jog, starting the race near Johnson Hall was a simple matter of ready, set … Boom!

The race began Saturday morning with the firing of an 18th century swivel gun, basically a large musket mounted like a miniature cannon on an iron swivel – a weapon of the type Sir William Johnson had to guard his baronial home in the Colonial Era. The antique starting gun was just one of the unusual features of the three-mile run that attracted more than 200 participants, some from as far away as Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“It’s a themed 5k,” said Johnson Hall Site Manager Wade Wells, standing near the swivel gun Saturday and garbed in 1760s clothing, complete with a cocked hat, breeches, black canvas gaiters strapped around his shins above black shoes. “The runners follow a course through the city, passing by some of the notable historic sites in town. It’s a nice way for us to feature the whole town, particularly to some people who may not normally be attracted to historic sites or visit them.”

Zak Godfrey, 20, of Fultonville, won the race overall with a time of 17 minutes and 41 seconds. He said the race was challenging because of all of the hills, but he enjoyed the historic aspect of the event.

“Getting started with a cannon, that was pretty sick,” he said by way of praise. “And all of the re-enactors – that was definitely one of the most unique things I’ve seen at a 5k.”

Ron Robertson, co-director of the Friends of Johnson Hall, said re-enactors wearing period costumes were positioned along the path of the race at historic sites such as the Episcopal Church, Jimmy Burke’s Inn and Fort Johnstown.

Heather K. Casler, 32, of Amsterdam, ran the Johnson Jog as a kind of a warm-up for the Boilermaker 15k run in Utica scheduled for July 14. She said her mother is a historic re-enactor who dresses up and plays the Irish whistle.

“So, I’m used to seeing the old-time dress, but it was cool seeing them along the race cheering us on. You’d be running and all of a sudden you’re in ‘Assassin’s Creed,’ and you’re like, ‘What?'” Casler said, referring to a popular video game that features Revolutionary War-era characters.

Robertson said last year the event raised approximately $3,000, but this year he expects it will take in a little less because it had fewer sponsors. Runners paid $15 each to participate, and sponsors provided many of the amenities: A&E Sportswear produced hats and T-shirts, Frontier Communications helped with funding, CG Roxane provided 600 water bottles, Subway gave away cookies, Fage Yogurt donated 300 containers of its Greek yogurt, and Price Chopper donated fruit and other food.

Wells said the fundraising from the Johnson Jog last year provided enough money to buy the period-accurate wallpaper for Sir William Johnson’s bedroom, and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provided the funding for its installation.

“These types of activities directly assist in restoration projects that we provide to the public,” he said.

Wells said Johnson’s bedroom has had at various times contained wallpaper from other eras put there by subsequent owners of the house, but no pieces of the original wallpaper exist, and no documents describe the wallpaper except a vague reference in his personal papers to him having hired a paper-hanger.

“He wrote to a friend in 1763 that his house was all complete except for the wallpaper,” Wells said.

In June, gothic-style hand-blocked wallpaper, of the kind available on the American market in the 1760s, will be installed in Johnson’s bedroom.

Wells said the Second Annual Johnson Jog should provide money for other projects, such as providing textiles for Johnson’s bedroom, including new bed curtains, window treatments and chair covers.

“When we’ve completed those items, at that point, that room will be complete,” he said.

More information about Johnson Hall and fundraising events is available at