Johnston, John Dixon

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John Dixon Johnston (1849-1928) was one of the most prolific architectural professionals working in Newport from 1880-1920. Johnston was a self taught architect closely connected to the building trades at a time when architectural practice was becoming increasingly credentialed and professionalized. The productive Johnston assumed a variety of roles from carpenter and builder to mill owner and architect and was involved in nearly two hundred documented buildings, all but a few of which were erected in Newport and Jamestown. Johnston helped to craft Newport’s first building codes and is responsible for designing and building Newport City Hall.

Johnston was born in 1849 to Scottish parents who settled in Chatham, near St. John, New Brunswick. In 1869 he moved to Portland Maine where he later recalls as a place he became a “student of architecture and building, and also mastered the carpenter’s trade.” In 1871 he moved south to Boston to further “pursue his vocation” until 1875 when he left to begin his career in Newport. Initially working as a freelance tradesman, within a few years he was constructing houses designed by Newport architect Dudley Newton. By 1879 he is listed in the Newport City Directory as a carpenter, contractor and builder and officially identifies himself as an architect and builder in 1886.

Johnston established a successful millwork shop providing custom woodworking and other building supplies while developing as an accomplished architect and builder. Johnston fast became one of Newport’s major employers with about one hundred employees split between the mill and various building sites. Johnston’s successful millwork operation provided subcontracting services for prominent architectural firms such as McKim, Mead, and White, C.L. Bevins, Ogden Codman, and Clarence Luce. Johnston’s millwork shop still stands as an inn at 75 Mill Street.

Johnston was also an entrepreneur and inventor. He received several patents in the 1890’s for hardware related to the millwork and construction trade. One of is inventions was a desktop calendar and paperweight that would hold commercial advertising. He also marketed wares such as Johnston’s Imperial Stick Fast Glue and Johnston Beauty Pins and Jewelry.

Perhaps most importantly, Johnston’s life is a story of the promise of a better life the American experience could offer to immigrants at the time. He was not of wealth or social status; he was educated in the construction industry and rose to become an astute, well respected businessman and a longtime resident who contributed immensely to the architectural and social fabric of Newport.

Reference: Onorato, R. J., (Spring 2008). Architecture and Drawing: The Newport Career of John Dixon Johnston. Newport History: The Journal of the Newport Historical Society, 77(258), pp-pp.

From the guide to the John Dixon Johnston Architectural Plans, Johnston (John Dixon) Architectural Plans, approximately 1900-1920, undated, (Newport Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Berwind, Edward J. (Edward Julius), 1848-1936 person
associatedWith Burden, I. Townsend person
associatedWith Cameron, Beatrice, 1863-1940 person
associatedWith Emery, Thomas J. person
associatedWith Emmons, Arthur B. (Arthur Brewster), 2nd, 1875- person
associatedWith Heyl, William E. person
associatedWith Lovering, Corbit person
associatedWith Lovering, J.S. person
associatedWith Mattison, Richard V. person
associatedWith Miller, William Starr person
associatedWith Newton, Dudley person
associatedWith Perry, Gardner person
associatedWith Richards, William Trost, 1833-1905 person
associatedWith Sherman, Anthony person
associatedWith Vanderbilt, Alfred Gwynne, 1877-1915 person
associatedWith Vanderbilt, Alfred Gwynne, 1912-1999 person
associatedWith Vose, Robert Clarence person
associatedWith Walsh, John person
associatedWith Weaver, George Arthur, 1863-1955 person
associatedWith Woodward, J.W. person
associatedWith Wysong, J.J. person
associatedWith Zabriskie, Lansing person
Place Name Admin Code Country


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Ark ID: w6fk7670

SNAC ID: 9993952