Clarence H. Johnston Sr.

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Clarence Howard Johnston Sr.
Clarence Howard Johnston, Sr.png
Born(1859-08-26)August 26, 1859
Died(1936-12-29)December 29, 1936
AwardsMinnesota State Architect (1901-1931)
Fellow, American Institute of Architects
President, AIA Minnesota
BuildingsSummit Terrace, Glensheen Mansion, Minnesota State Prison, Walter Library, Northrop Auditorium
Signature of Clarence Howard Johnston, Sr.png

Clarence Howard Johnston Sr. (August 26, 1859 – December 29, 1936) was an American architect who practiced in the US state of Minnesota during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Specializing in domestic, religious, and public architecture, he served as Minnesota State Architect from 1901 to 1931. He is considered one of the most prolific architects in the state's history.

Early life[edit]

Johnston's parents, Alexander Johnston and Louise Johnston (née Buckhout), moved to Waseca County, Minnesota, in 1856, along with a few other families. They established a settlement named Okaman on the shores of Lake Elysian. Their first son, John Buckhout Johnston, was born in 1858, and became a prominent manufacturer and businessman. Clarence Johnston was born August 26, 1859. The family then moved to Wilton, which was then the county seat of Waseca County, and Alexander Johnston took over the publication of a local newspaper. In 1861 the family moved to Faribault. Their third child, Grace, was born March 2, 1862. They moved again, to Saint Paul, where their fourth child, Charles Albert, was born in 1864. After moving briefly to Hastings, the family returned to Saint Paul permanently in 1868. Alexander Johnston was then a reporter for the Daily Pioneer newspaper.[1]: 3–4 

Education and apprenticeship[edit]

Johnston started attending Saint Paul High School in 1872 and took on a job as a clerk at the law firm of Rogers and Rogers. His mother died May 8, 1874, at the age of 42. That same year, Johnston quit his clerical job and began work at the firm of Abraham M. Radcliffe as a draughtsman. Radcliffe's firm was a local training ground for aspiring architects at the time. In September 1876, Cass Gilbert joined Radcliffe's firm as an apprentice, and Gilbert and Johnston soon became close friends.[1]: 5–6 

In the fall of 1878, Gilbert and Johnston enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There they met James Knox Taylor, who had also grown up in Saint Paul and joined MIT as an architectural student a year earlier. Gilbert and Johnston, along with Taylor, had opted to take the special two-year course in architecture, rather than the full four-year degree-granting program. However, Johnston was forced to drop out after one term due to financial reasons.[1]: 7–9  He moved back to Saint Paul and worked briefly at the firm of Edward Bassford, where the firm was more conscious of costs to the client in the design and construction process. This influenced Johnston to view economic constraints as a challenge to be solved by inventiveness, instead of being a restriction on his artistry. During these years, Gilbert and Johnston kept in touch through a large number of letters.[1]: 10 

In January 1880, Cass Gilbert departed to Europe for an architectural tour. Gilbert wrote back to Johnston urging him to make a similar trip, but Johnston was preoccupied with a job offer from Herter Brothers in New York. One of the projects on which he worked during his tenure at Herter Brothers was J.P. Morgan's brownstone house on Madison Avenue at 36th Street. In the summer of 1880, Cass Gilbert returned from Europe and settled in New York, working for the firm of McKim, Mead & White. Gilbert and Johnston, along with their MIT classmate Francis Bacon, shared rooms at 40 Irving Place. That same year Johnston, Gilbert, Bacon, Taylor, and William A. Bates founded the Sketch Club, which later became the Architectural League of New York. Accounts vary on which members were actually the founders of the club.[1]: 14–16 


Glensheen (1908)

After finally traveling to Europe and the Asia Minor in February 1883, Johnston returned to the United States and established his own practice in Minnesota in 1886. He quickly gained a reputation as a respected domestic architect, designing countless homes and churches in Saint Paul, especially in the vicinity of Summit Avenue and Saint Paul's Hill District. In 1886 Johnston formed a partnership with William H. Willcox which lasted through 1890. In 1895 Johnston entered the competition to design the new Minnesota State Capitol, but lost to Cass Gilbert.

On May 22, 1901, the Minnesota State Board of Control, a body responsible for the construction and operation of all state-funded institutions, appointed Johnston as State Architect. As State Architect, Johnston prepared plans for the Minnesota State Prison, buildings at various state college campuses, hospitals, sanitoriums, and other public structures. Since state business was at the whims of the Minnesota Legislature and was not always consistent, he continued his private practice during this time. Retaining private commissions allowed him to operate his office continuously and receive a higher rate of return.[1]: 110–112  Johnston continued as State Architect until 1931, when the State Division of Construction was dissolved.

Johnston was also architect for the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota and drew plans for all the new buildings constructed on campus during his tenure.

Johnston never officially retired, but backed off on his practice after the State Architect position dissolved in 1931. He died December 29, 1936.

Family and personal life[edit]

Johnston married Mary "May" Thurston October 1, 1885. The couple had a total of five children.

Johnston's son, Clarence H. Johnston Jr, was also an architect. Taking charge of the Johnston firm upon his father's death, he went on to design Coffman Memorial Union and the old Bell Museum building at the University of Minnesota, among other projects.

Johnston was also the father of Jimmy Johnston, a noted amateur golfer.

State Architect projects[edit]

The Minnesota State Board of Control was initially in charge of nine institutions. Johnston designed buildings at these following institutions:[1]: 112 

Historic institution name Modern name Location Buildings designed by Johnston[1]: 182–194 
Hospital for the Insane Minnesota Security Hospital St. Peter Main building additions and alterations, additional dormitories and wards
Rochester Asylum for the Insane Closed 1982 and demolished[2] Rochester Main building additions and alterations, dormitories and hospital buildings
State Asylum for the Insane, Anoka Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center Anoka Main building additions and alterations, several cottages for men and women, new administration building in 1919
Hastings Asylum for the Insane Minnesota Veterans Home, Hastings Hastings Main building additions and alterations, several cottage and dormitory buildings
Training School for Boys Minnesota Correctional Facility – Red Wing Red Wing Main building additions and alterations, auditorium/gymnasium, shop building, kitchen building, and cottages
Minnesota State Reformatory Minnesota Correctional Facility – St. Cloud St. Cloud South wing completion, new administration building, cell houses D, E, and F, hospital
Minnesota State Prison Minnesota Correctional Facility – Stillwater Stillwater Initial design of the new Bayport location authorized in 1905, administration building, four cellhouses, machinery factory/shops/foundry, warden and deputy warden's residences
Minnesota School for the Feeble-Minded Closed 1998,[2] subsumed by Minnesota Correctional Facility – Faribault Faribault Main building alterations and additions, many custodial buildings and cottages
University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus
School of Mines
Law Building (Pattee Hall) addition
Main building (Folwell Hall)
Ladies' dormitory (Sanford Hall)
Main Engineering (Lind Hall)
Medical School (Millard Hall)
Institute of Anatomy (Jackson Hall)
Experimental Engineering highway department addition
Chemistry (Smith Hall)
School of Mines (Appleby Hall)
Elliot Hospital additions
Ladies' gymnasium (Norris Hall)
Shevlin Hall addition
School of Music (Scott Hall)
Walter Library
Mines Experiment Station
Administration building (Morrill Hall)
Minnesota Union (Nicholson Hall) additions
Storehouse and Shops Building
Electrical Engineering
Law School (Fraser Hall)
Field House (Williams Arena)
Northrop Auditorium
Pioneer Hall
College of Dentistry (Owre Hall)
Powell Hall
Indoor sports building
University of Minnesota School of Agriculture University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus St. Paul campus
Boys' dormitory (Dexter Hall)
Main building (Coffey Hall)
Dairy cattle barn
Ladies' dormitory (Meredith Hall)
Dining hall (North Hall) addition
Ladies' dormitory (Brewster Hall)
Horse barn
Agricultural Engineering
Home Economics (McNeal Hall)
Agronomy Seed House
Veterinary barn
Plant Pathology
Dairy husbandry (Haecker Hall)
Plant Industries (Snyder Hall)
First State Normal School of Minnesota Winona State University Winona Library, Morey Hall, Phelps Hall, Shepard Hall, College Hall
Mankato Normal School Minnesota State University, Mankato Mankato
Third State Normal School St. Cloud State University St. Cloud
Moorhead Normal School Minnesota State University Moorhead Moorhead
Duluth Normal School University of Minnesota Duluth Duluth
Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children Closed 1970, now preserved as a museum[2] Owatonna South wing, power plant, and some dormitory buildings
State School for the Blind Minnesota State Academy for the Blind Faribault
State School for the Deaf Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Faribault
Some buildings of the Minnesota State Fair St. Paul Cattle pavilion, grandstand repairs and reinforcing, warehouse

While Johnston was State Architect, the Minnesota State Board of Control added the following institutions to its governance:[1]: 112 

Historic institution name Date added Modern name Location Buildings designed by Johnston[1]: 182–194 
Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives 1905 Ah-Gwah-Ching State Health Care Facility, razed in 2010 Walker
Thirteen county sanatoriums 1913 Various counties
State Hospital for Indigent, Crippled, and Deformed Children 1907 Renamed Gillette State Hospital for Crippled Children in 1925; now part of Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare Near Lake Phalen in St. Paul Main complex, several service buildings, and Michael Dowling Hall (school)
Willmar Hospital Farm for Inebriates 1907 Willmar Regional Treatment Center, closed in 2007 Willmar
Home School for Girls 1907 Minnesota Correctional Facility-Sauk Centre; closed in 1999[3] Sauk Centre
Women's Reformatory 1918 Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee Shakopee
Minnesota Colony for Epileptics 1924 Cambridge State Hospital, closed 1999[2] Cambridge
Ramsey County Preventorium 1928 Became Lake Owasso Children's Home in 1955; closed 1976[4] North of St. Paul
Agricultural school added to Northwest Agricultural Experiment Station 1905 University of Minnesota Crookston Crookston
School of agriculture and boys' dormitory
Boys' dormitory and dining hall (Stephens Hall)
Farm mechanics building (Owen Hall)
Library and assembly hall (Kiehle Hall)
Ladies' dormitory (Robertson Hall)
Industrial building (possibly an addition to Owen Hall)
Science building (Hill Building) (demolished 1959, replaced by a new Hill Hall)
Boys' dormitory (Selvig Hall)
Dining hall (Bede Hall), demolished 2004
Four-family cottage
Health service
Agricultural school added to Northeast Agricultural Experiment Station 1905 Now part of Itasca Community College Grand Rapids School of agriculture, Bergh Hall, and Donovan Hall
West Central School of Agriculture 1910 University of Minnesota Morris Morris
Ladies' dormitory (Camden Hall)
Men's dormitory (Spooner Hall)
Dining hall and gymnasium (Behmler Hall)
Boys' dormitory (Blakely Hall)
Main building (Agricultural Hall)
Dormitory (Pine Hall)
South Agricultural Experiment Station 1912 University of Minnesota Waseca (now defunct) Waseca Superintendent's residence
Northeast Demonstration Farm and Experiment Station 1912 razed Duluth Institute Hall
Bemidji State Normal School 1918 Bemidji State University Bemidji Deputy Hall, Sanford Hall, training school wing and heating plant
Minnesota Historical Society building 1916-1918 Minnesota Judicial Center St. Paul
Minnesota State Office Building 1931-1932 St. Paul

For all the institutions above, Clarence H. Johnston Sr. either designed new buildings, designed improvements to existing buildings, or both.

Notable works[edit]

Eastcliff (1922), the University of Minnesota President's residence

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Campus[edit]

University of Minnesota, Saint Paul Campus[edit]

  • Haecker Hall (Dairy Husbandry)
  • Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Building
  • Coffey Hall
  • McNeal Hall
  • Eastcliff, the residence of the President of the University of Minnesota

Other buildings[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paul Clifford Larson (1996). Minnesota Architect: The Life and Work of Clarence H. Johnston. Afton Historical Society Press. ISBN 978-0-9639338-8-1.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Evolution of Minnesota's State-Operated Services". Minnesota Department of Human Services.
  3. ^ "Minnesota Department of Corrections History: 1984-1999". Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2012.
  4. ^ "Brief History of Minnesota's Mental Retardation Institutions" (PDF).
  5. ^ "Trade and Commerce Building". Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places. Wisconsin Historical Society. Archived from the original on January 26, 2020. Retrieved February 2, 2013.

External links[edit]