Joseph S. Johnston was a partner in the short-lived firm of Johnston & Edelmann, best known for nurturing a young Louis Sullivan. Johnston had practiced architecture independently in Chicago from 1868 through 1871, but in 1872 was working as a draftsman at the office of Burling & Adler, where he met architect John H. Edelmann. By 1873, Johnston was again working for himself, and in 1874 he invited Edelmann to join him as a junior partner. (Louis Sullivan acted as their apprentice.)
During Chicago’s rebuilding frenzy following the Great Fire of 1871, many new schools were needed. Johnston & Edelmann designed the King School (on Harrison Street, near Western) and five other elementary schools, including the Ward School, located on South Shields Avenue. Ward School, now a Chicago landmark, is the only extant example of the firm’s school designs. The three-story, Italianate, center hall-plan buildings featured four rooms per floor, each with large windows on two walls to maximize natural light and ventilation. Based on the 1873 date of the initial King School design, the basic scheme for these schools can be attributed to Johnston. Moreover, the March 1, 1874, Chicago Tribune mentions only Johnston’s name in connection with several of these schools.
In addition to the public schools, Johnston & Edelmann designed Chicago’s Moody Tabernacle (since razed), among other buildings, and prepared a competition design for Plymouth Church, also in Chicago. Architectural historian Charles E. Gregerson, in his unpublished 2008 article, “John Herman Edelmann as Louis Sullivan’s ‘Benefactor,’” argues that, while the Italianate school designs were primarily Johnston’s, the church designs were largely Edelmann’s, noting the latter’s fondness for and skill in a restrained form of Gothic ornament.
By 1876, the firm of Johnston & Edelmann had dissolved. Johnston continued to practice independently, maintaining offices in Chicago and designing buildings through at least 1910. In old age, Johnston relocated to Pasadena, California, where he was living with his daughter in 1930.