In 1864, Benjamin Johnson, owner of one of Gardiner’s finest hotels, determined to convert his modest livery stable into a proper hall that would accommodate and draw audiences from up and down the Kennebec River. Today, Johnson Hall’s Studio stands as a hub for the performing arts in the center of Gardiner’s historic downtown, ready for transformation to a state of the art theater for the ages.
From the beginning, Johnson Hall showcased performances and events of all kinds – from concerts to speakers, masquerades to graduations, and even roller skating! One can still climb the grand staircase to the second floor, which served as a Supper Room in the Hall’s era of late night dances, a concessions area in its cinema days, as well as a department store and dance studio in later years.
From there, another staircase turns and ascends into the magnificent cathedral-ceilinged theater hall of time-gone-by. In 1888, the space was transformed into the Opera House – the name by which many generations still recall it. Home to grand traveling theatrical performances, it later hosted decades of motion pictures, from silent films to creature double-features.
Over a century and a half later, Gardiner is actively dedicated to fully restoring the third floor of Benjamin Johnson’s Hall, creating a like-new renovated space, with faithful attention to the details of the past. Rather than succumb to deterioration or demolition – and despite the ravages of floods, fires, and financial challenges over the years – Johnson Hall remains a cornerstone of Kennebec County history and a vibrant community mainstay.