One of the marked traits
of the Scotch character is a fidelity to tradition and a clan sentiment
which endures for many generations. What the father has accomplished,
that the son desires to do for the honor of the name and the native
land. The Johnston Family for two generations exemplified this Scottish
characteristic, and both father and son became in turn the presiding
officer of the Society.
John Taylor Johnston was
the son of John Johnston and Margaret Taylor, and was born on the 8th
April, 1820, at No. 16 Greenwich Street, New York City. He died on the
24th March, 1893, at his residence, No. 8 Fifth Avenue, New York City,
in the seventy-third year of his age.
When a youth he was sent
to Scotland to commence his studies at the Edinburgh High School.
Returning to this country he completed his education in the University
of the City of New York, from which he graduated in 1839 at the early
age of nineteen. He then turned his attention to the study of the law at
the Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut, and after obtaining his
degree entered the office of Daniel Lord, the father of his classmate,
Daniel D. Lord. He was admitted to the bar as a counsellor at law in
1843, but practiced his profession only a few years, owing to large
corporate interests which demanded his attention.
In 1848 he took the
Presidency of the then small Somerville & Easton Railroad, which he and
his associates developed into what is now known as the Central Railroad
of New Jersey, and with which his business career will always be
associated. He remained President of this road from 1848 to 1877, a
period of twenty-nine years, and saw his fortune almost entirely
dissipated in the efforts made to sustain the credit of the road in the
face of the general collapse and discredit of all the anthracite
coal-carrying lines. He resigned the Presidency of the road, however,
when it went into the hands of a receiver in 1877, and never took any
further part in its management.
There is no question but
that the Central Railroad of New Jersey owes its present supreme
position to the enterprise and ability of Mr. Johnston in building up
the road. His business acumen led to the acquisition of the Lehigh &
Susquehanna Railroad in Pennsylvania, with its extensive and rich coal
lands, and this created a constantly increasing coal traffic for the
present road. His forethought secured the terminal facilities for this
road in New York Harbor and thus centralized the traffic of the
Baltimore & Ohio, the Reading and the Lehigh Valley Roads. By his
unsupported efforts he finally succeeded in influencing his Board of
Directors to build and lease the New York & Long Branch Railroad, and he
continuously advocated and urged the building up of suburban service and
stations between Jersey City and Somerville.
The fruit of this wise
policy is seen in the present magnificent suburban business done by the
Jersey Central. He was also more progressive than his business rivals
and associates in securing even grades and avoiding grade crossings, and
throughout his entire administration showed a mind in advance of his
time in railway enterprise. He was a strong believer in feeders for a
main line of railway, and the mountain road at Plainfield, where he had
his summer residence, bears his name, and all the suburban villages
between Elizabeth and Somerville owe him a debt of gratitude for his
efforts in that direction.
Mr. Johnston was
interested in the development of art, and up to the time of its sale and
dispersion in 1877 his picture gallery was the most important in
America. It was always open to the public one day in the week, and it
was his habit to assemble in it once a year all the artists of New York.
Among the noted pictures were Church’s “Niagara,” now in the Corcoran
Gallery at Washington; Muller’s “Last Roll Call in the Conciergerie,”
now owned by Mr. Astor; Turner’s “Slave Ship,” and representative works
of Meissonier, Jules Breton, Brion, Fortuny, Madrazo, Daubigny, and the
Barbizon School. His taste in art was general, and all the schools were
represented among his pictures.
One of the leaders in the
organization of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, from the start he gave
this institution his constant and best attention. He was the first
President of the Museum and continued to occupy this position until
1859, when his ill-health forced him to resign. He w'as thereupon
elected Honorary President for life. The earlier art treasures of the
museum were largely gathered together through his generosity and
foresight, and the present splendid collection of pictures is due to his
direct influence and effort.
He was also President of
the Governing Board of the University of the City of New York and took
an active part in the management of the Presbyterian Hospital, the
Woman’s Hospital and the boards of the Presbyterian Church. He was an
elder in the old Scotch Presbyterian Church in Fourteenth Street, and a
leader in the church councils, attending several of the General
Assemblies as the representative of the New York Presbytery.
He was elected a member
of Saint Andrew’s Society on the 30th November, 1841; served as a member
of the Committee of Accounts in 1842, 1845, 1849 and 1850; of the
Standing Committee in 1846, 1869, 1871, 1875, 1877, 1879-1883; acted as
Manager, 1851-1854; as Second Vice-President, 1854-1858; as First
Vice-President, 1858-1864, and as President, 1867-1869, thus following
in the footsteps of his father, who had been a former officer and
President of the Society.
He married on the 15th
May, 1850, at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, New York City, Frances
Colies, daughter of James Colles and Harriet Augusta Wetmore, and had
issue: (1) Emily, born 13th February, 1851, who married Robert W.
DeForest; (2) Colles, born 14th March, 1853; (3) John Herbert, born 22d
February, 1855; (4) Frances, born 9th January, 1857; (5) Eva, born 19th
His portrait is
reproduced from a photograph now in the possession of his daughter, Mrs.
Robert W. DeForest.