Friday, August 7, 2009

Union Hall Inn (Johnstown, NY)

-leave your own

Old Building, Good Food

Yes, I admit we snickered at the date posted on the building as we entered. It was built in 1798, but has the bold roof-line styling of the Italianate, which would date to mid-19th century. That makes us jerks, and nerds, at the same time. Looking at the building from a distance, though, and it's definitely solidly Federal style, and at a grand scale, too.

these people look excited to respresent the rich history of Johnstown.

Six newly washed archaeologists walking into a fine establishment, we were a little self-conscious, and rightly so. The inn is well preserved and appointed, and we almost didn't belong. Thanks to a small tap-room to the side, we felt comfortable enough to stay. Seated along the bar was a foursome of well-to-do locals, fresh off the links. Thankfully they looked upon us with interest and not disdain, and even engaged us with some friendly drunken banter. The prices on the pub menu were a little shocking, and out of our usual range, but we had already walked around town for 45 minutes and could not suffer another minute without dinner.

Sometimes it is frustrating when everything on a menu looks like a winner. Beet salad, Macaroni , Cheese and Crispy Prociutto (or was is Pancetta?), Sirloin Stew with Root Vegetables, some tasty application of Gnocchi. I ordered the Sirloin Stew and spent 30
happy minutes picking through sirloin tips, beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, and asparagus bathing in a brilliant gravy. With positive reactions from the rest of the table, I knew we picked the right place, even if our bank accounts cried out in pain from the funds withdrawn to cover the bill. The most remarkable thing came at the end, when most of the table ordered strawberry-rhubarb crisps, served fresh-baked in tall ramekins, resembling a muffin, with a scoop of ice cream on top. It was the best dessert I will ever get the chance to enjoy, hands down.

Some other local distraction. . .

Before dinner, we stopped by the town father William Johnson's home, a massive Early Federal built in 1762 to reside in and host the regional chapter of Freemasons. Johnson, the British liaison to the Native American people, hoped to extend the network of Freemasons westward into the Mohawk Valley. The first thing I noticed about the massive slab of a house as we approached from the parking lot was that none of the clapboards overlapped. Actually, there were no clapboards, but a flat-fitted siding that was grooved with lines to approximate the look of a stone-block house, as was all the rage in Albany. According to one of the Historic Preservationists that was on hand to chat, the wood was even prepared to look like weathered grey stone. Whether it was due to lack of local material, or lack of the financial means to acquire it, Johnson felt he needed to keep up appearances with his rich social equals in the capital. To me, it stinks of 1970's wood paneling, or faux brick tar panel siding.

One of the more interesting things, other than the painstakingly restored interior of the house (which you can learn more about), the director of the park delighted us with a peek at the interior of one of the stout stone outbuildings. Among the intact and stalwart wood framing and the tantalizing peek into the partially filled cellar, we got to see a section of the main house's original timber frames. As they were restoring the house (which had seen some very bizarre transformations in the Victorian Style, and in the early 20th
century) they found a beam from the side of the house with an intact gutter carved in one piece! What was really interesting is how much this gutter from the 1760's (we presume) looks identical to the shape of the plastic gutters we hang on our homes today. The beams were probably half a ton each, which would be a lot harder to replace. One can imagine how easily organic matter would have built up and started the rot. If you are ever looking for something to do, give them a ring at Johnson Hall, and try to stop by from Thursday to Saturday to get a look inside the house and outbuildings. The collection of personal effects (including an arsenal of muskets, wigs, wall hangings, clothing, toys, and more) in the house is mind-blowing, and was collected and purchased over many years by the director of the park.

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