York County antique collector, once featured on TV show ‘American Pickers,’ dies at auction

Posted Feb. 05, 2014, at 1:28 p.m.
Bill Johnson, founder of the Johnson Hall Museum, has died at age 73.
Deb Cram | York County Coast Star
Bill Johnson, founder of the Johnson Hall Museum, has died at age 73.

WELLS, Maine — Bill Johnson, a “colorful individual” known for his unusual collection of antiques, died Saturday doing what he loved.

Johnson, 73, a resident of Kennebunk, auctioneer and founder of the Johnson Hall Museum, died while attending an auction, according to his obituary.

“Bill was a colorful individual who certainly was passionate for the interests he had in restoring and retaining historic buildings,” said Wells Town Manager Jon Carter. “We didn’t always agree, but his passion and abilities outweighed any of those differences and we will miss him in Wells.”

In 1976, Johnson purchased Barnard’s Tavern on Route 1 in Kennebunk, where his wife, Jo Johnson, started her practice of ophthalmology.

In the early 1980s, the couple purchased the former Libby Tea Room in Wells, where Johnson held auctions and his wife moved her practice. He created what is now the Johnson Hall Museum, purchasing old historic buildings in danger of being demolished and moving them to the property.

Johnson’s passion received national attention in 2011 when collectors from the popular History Channel show “American Pickers” visited the Johnson Hall Museum, and according to his obituary, “found it a challenging proposition, to pry any of Bill’s treasures away from him.”

Johnson’s obituary says he loved to give tours of the museum, calling it a “show and tell.” That’s exactly what Karen Arel, president of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce, remembers about Johnson.

Arel said she first met Johnson in the late 1980s when she had gone to the museum with a friend for an appointment with Johnson’s wife. While they waited he led them through an unexpected tour.

“He was quite the character,” Arel said. “I remember him spending all this time talking and showing us around and just being so considerate. He was just that kind of guy. He had an old-fashioned piano and a lot of different things there and he just loved, loved, loved talking about it.”

While talking to the York County Coast Star in the fall of 2012, Johnson described himself as a “tinkerer,” “restorationist” and a “preservationist.”

“I’m a hoarder but at least you can get around this stuff,” he said at the time. “I’m a born collector.”

 

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