Johnson Hall // 1864

After heading west to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush, Gardiner resident Benjamin Johnson, moved back to his hometown and immediately spent money to buy one of the finest hotels in town. He renamed the hotel Johnson House and served as the manager of the hotel through the American Civil War. The hotel included a two-story stable to the side which allowed visitors to keep their horses and carriages nearby. In December 1864, he completed a two-story vertical addition which added a large hall with gallery above for events and shows, retaining the stable on the ground floor. The demarcation of the two sections is evident from the windows on the main facade and the difference in brick. The hall opened to great fanfare, and with Johnson as manager, hundreds of plays, musicians, and events were held in the event space, which made Gardiner a major hub for socio-cultural life in Kennebec County. In the 1880s, he added a new wood floor upstairs which allowed the hall to be used for rollerskating, a very popular update. Not long after, the stable was converted to commercial space at the ground floor, and upstairs an opera hall. Benjamin died in 1903, and his widow, Henrietta took over, and kept-up with the times, changing the upstairs hall to a moving pictures and silent film theatre. The theatre closed in the mid-20th century, like so many other small local theaters. Good news though! A group of locals is working to fully restore all three floors of Johnson Hall, creating a new state-of-the-art performing arts theater, while maintaining the architectural character of the building.

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