February 3

Feature obituary: Bill Johnson, founder of Johnson Hall Museum in Wells

Mr. Johnson died Saturday at age 73.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The quirky proprietor of a quirkier museum on Route 1 in Wells was in the thick of his constant quest to add to his collection when it suddenly ended Saturday.

click image to enlarge

Bill Johnson, proprietor of the Johnson Hall Museum on Route 1 in Wells, is shown in 2012. Mr. Johnson died Saturday at age 73.

2012 Press Herald file

Bill Johnson, 73, the Johnson Hall Museum’s owner, founder and tour guide, died while attending an auction at Bo-Mar Hall in Wells.

Before Mr. Johnson bought the Post Road property, Libby’s Colonial Tea Room had been the site’s attraction.

On the National Register of Historical Places, the former restaurant counted Franklin Roosevelt among its guests. Since Mr. Johnson took over the site in the 1980s, that’s become just one of the bits of history preserved there.

From player pianos to railroad stations, Mr. Johnson amassed a collection of antiques that’s drawn visitors from around the country, as well as writers and television crews looking to expose the artifacts to a wide audience.

He and his museum were featured in Yankee Magazine and on the History Channel show “American Pickers.”

Mr. Johnson got involved in antiques trading while living in Boston and working as a piano tuner.

Born in Berwick to a dairy farming family, he returned to Maine in 1976 and bought Barnard’s Tavern in Kennebunk before moving down the street to the tea room.

His wife, Dr. Jo Johnson, practiced ophthalmology out of the building that has also served as a reception hall for weddings. On Thursday, it will be the site of a celebration of Mr. Johnson’s life.

There’s no question Mr. Johnson was a character. His appearance, accented with suspenders and a ponytail, drew comparisons to Archie Bunker from the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family.” He drove an antique Buick LaSalle.

And aside from being a well-known auctioneer, he got a reputation for having a hard time letting go.

“He was sentimental,” his wife said. So his collection kept growing.

Jo Johnson has been told he was bidding on items and having a blast at the auction Saturday before he died.

She said what her husband liked best about antiques were the stories behind them, and he remembered them all. When he took people on tours, he called it “show and tell.”

She said she’s not sure yet what will happen to the museum. Their son, Andrew Johnson, an opera singer in Austria, has considered moving back home to help out.

For now, they’re just not touching anything. But, regardless, it will never be the same.

“A large part of the museum was Bill,” she said. “He brought it to life.”

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

Twitter: lesliebridgers

 

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