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Francis Johnson Exhibit

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Summers in Saratoga

The initial attraction of Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa in the late eighteenth century was the mineral water and its supposed health benefits, but soon visitors wanted more than spring water. They expected the comfortable accommodations and entertainment they were accustomed to enjoying at home.

Samuel H. Drake, the proprietor of Gideon Putman's Congress Hall Hotel in Saratoga Springs, had learned of Frank Johnson's cotillion parties in the Masonic Hall in Philadelphia, and in the early 1820s, he hired Johnson to travel to Saratoga to accompany dances in the evening at his hotel. Johnson and the band played exclusively at the Congress Hall Hotel until the completion of the United States Hotel in 1824, at which point they played at each hotel on alternate evenings. They were eventually engaged by other resort hotels, and Johnson composed several pieces in honor of the summer resorts, including "Saratoga," "A Trip to Ballston," and "Congress Hall."

These summer visits to Saratoga, which usually spanned mid-July to mid-September, continued each year over the following two decades until Johnson's death in 1844. The only exception was 1841, when the hotel owners refused his request for a raise and engaged another band, but he was back next year - presumably because the replacements had been unsatisfactory.

 

Silhouette Auguste Edouart (1789-1861). Silhouette portraits of Frank Johnson and his wife, Helen Appo Johnson, 13 August 1843 and 9 August 1844. Reproduction of copies held by the Metropolitan Museum.

In March 1819, at the age of twenty-six, Johnson married Helen Appo at Christ Episcopal Church. Initially, the couple lived with Appo's parents at 65 South Fourth Street. Helen was a talented costumer, milliner, and tailor whose customers were the fashionable women of Philadelphia. Helen's brothers Joseph and William Appo were members of Johnson's band.

These portraits were made by one of the most famous silhouette artists of the era. Johnson's dates from his last summer in Saratoga, and his wife's from the summer following his death.
Map Detail of map showing Broadway in Saratoga Springs, New York. Reproduced from F.W. Beers and Louis H. Cramer, Combination Atlas of Saratoga and Ballston (New York, 1876).

Hotels where Johnson performed include the Congress Hall (right center) and the Union and United States (left).
Congress Hall Colonnade of the Congress Hall hotel, Saratoga Springs, 1837. Engraving by W.H. Bartlett based on the drawing by William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854). Reproduced from Nathaniel Parker Willis, American Scenery; or, Land, Lake and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature (London, 1839).

Gideon Putnam built Congress Hall hotel in 1811. At the suggestion of Julia Stock Rush, wife of the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush, Johnson's Band was invited by Samuel H. Drake to perform there for the first time early in the 1820s.
"In 1828, English visitors described the Congress Hall Hotel as immense, given its 120 beds and large and handsome public rooms. A visitor in 1833 commented on its spacious hall, which opened by means of folding doors into a splendid saloon, ornamented with paintings and a large lamp. Other doors led to the dining room, which was decorated with engravings of scenes from Sir Walter Scott's chivalric romance Ivanhoe. The most renowned feature of the hotel was its piazza, which extended the full length of its Broadway front, an ideal space in which visitors could promenade. Contemporary lithographs of the expansive porch were even produced in Europe, where its height, reached from the street by eleven steps, was shown in exaggerated dimensions." (Thomas G. Corbett, The Making of American Resorts. New Brunswick, N.J., 2001)
Cotillion "A Trip to Ballston: A Country Dance." From A Collection of New Cotillions, 3rd sett. Philadelphia: George Willig, [182-?].
Ballston Spa Early view of Ballston Spa, New York. Reproduction of an unidentified print.

Ballston Spa, a village a few miles southwest of Saratoga Springs, was famous for a mineral-water spring used for healing, and for the San Souci Hotel, which in the early 18th century was the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world.
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