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Historic marker tells a lie

Historian says there’s no record Washington visited Johnstown site

April 2, 2011
By MICHAEL ANICH , The Leader Herald

JOHNSTOWN - George Washington may have visited the heart of what is now the city of Johnstown in 1783, but Fulton County Historian Peter Betz hasn't found any record proving it.

In fact, to be historically accurate, Betz told Fulton County legislators Tuesday, he might work to have a 1930s-era state historic marker at the old Fort Johnstown Annex changed. The marker states boldly, in blue-and-gold paint, that the nation's first president visited the old fort.

"I want to talk to [Mayor Sarah Slingerland] and see what she thinks about it," Betz said.

Article Photos

The historic marker outside the Fort Johnstown Annex in Johnstown might be incorrect about George Washington’s visit, the county historian says.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Betz said the marker, installed in 1933 at the old Colonial-era jail at South Perry and Montgomery streets, advertises that Washington was in that part of Johnstown. The marker states it is was an "important frontier civil and military prison" during the American Revolution and it was "inspected by Washington in 1783."

That was six years before he became president, and 228 years later, Fort Johnstown is still a stop on historic tours of the city.

The problem is, Betz said, that Washington "never came up here." He said the general, later known as the "father of our country," kept meticulous notes and journals. He said there is no record of him visiting that part of Johnstown, despite the historic significance of the city, which still is known to some as the Colonial City and was named after Sir William Johnson's son.

History shows Washington did tour parts of the Mohawk Valley south of that area.

Betz told county supervisors Tuesday that he had talked with county Highways and Facilities Superintendent Mark Yost about erasing the questionable information.

"Why would you want to change history?" committee Chairwoman Linda Kemper joked with Betz.

Yost said Friday he did talk to Betz about possibly grinding out the cast iron on the Fort Johnstown marker. But he said he would have to receive county legislators' permission first.

Betz said the possibility of changing the marker will be discussed with the the Johnstown Historical Society, City Historian Noel Levee and other authorities in the near future.

Betz's local history column, "Windows on the Past," appears every other Monday in The Leader-Herald.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at



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