New marker corrects Washington error
JOHNSTOWN – The record has finally been set straight – “the father of our country” never visited Johnstown.
For many years, a state historical marker situated in front of the former Fulton County Jail on East Montgomery Street touted that George Washington came to the site. The county government site is now the Fort Johnstown Annex.
That blue and gold marker from 1933 proclaimed: Fort Johnstown was an “important frontier civil and military prison” during the American Revolution and was “inspected by Washington in 1783.”
Except that incident with Washington didn’t happen, according to local historians.
“It’s time to correct it,” Johnstown City Historian Noel Levee said.
On Tuesday, Levee and other officials from Fulton County government and the Johnstown Historical Society finally set the record straight by officially dedicating a new marker the two entities had installed. Gone is the old one, replaced by one that states the site was visited by another famous figure – French aristocrat and military officer Lafayette.
Levee said county taxpayers put in $500 for the costs of the new sign, while the historical society contributed more than $500.
The new sign states the Fort Johnstown Annex was built in 1774 as a Colonial jail and used as a Revolutionary War civil military headquarters inspected by Lafayette in 1778. The sign also notes Capt. John Littel commanded the post during the October 1781 Ross Raid.
Lee Lanois, a member of the historical society who has helped repaint local markers over the years, said the new sign makes it easier to correct the record for tourists visiting Johnstown.
“Historically correct is a lot easier than explaining to everybody who comes into town that [the sign] is wrong,” Lanois said.
Gloversville 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael F. Gendron – representing the county – lauded the joint effort between the county and historical society in correcting the sign.
Levee said Washington did visit the Mohawk Valley and had lunch at Fort Johnson, but he was never in what is now the city of Johnstown. He credited former Fulton County Historian Peter Betz’s efforts from 2011 in bringing the truth to light, paving the way for the correction.
Betz two years ago told county supervisors George Washington, known as the “father of our country,” kept meticulous notes and journals. He said there was no record of him visiting Johnstown, despite the historic significance of the city, which is known to some as the Colonial City and named after Sir William Johnson’s son.
He said many local experts over the years, including James Morrison Sr., Lew Decker, Don Huxley, Bob Bedford, George Engelman and Albert Niles, agreed Washington didn’t visit Johnstown.