Johnstown, PA

The Johnstown Flood

In the waning years of the nineteenth century, the steel barons from Pittsburgh enjoyed a private retreat in the mountains of Cambria County. Known as the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, the members included Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The club boasted a multi-acre lake, boathouses and cottages. A large clubhouse served as a hotel and restaurant for members and their guests. Life was easy along the lake until the rains came that day. The storm began on Memorial Day and continued through the night. On May 31, 1889, rising water in the lake breached the South Fork Dam, sending twenty million tons of water roaring through the Conemaugh Valley. The massive wall of water destroyed everything in its path. Houses, railroad cars and other debris all became part of the deadly mix that crashed into Johnstown and literally swept the town away. When it was all over, 2,209 people were dead but from the destruction rose a spirit of survival and commitment that lives in Johnstown today.

Aftermath of 1889 Johnstown Flood

Johnstown Flood Attractions

Johnstown Flood display at National Memorial

The Flood National Memorial is located at the ruins of the South Fork Dam that burst May 31, 1889. It is operated by the National Park Service and features exhibits, an actual size “debris wall” which dramatically illustrates the flood wave that devastated Johnstown. The film Black Friday chillingly recreates that day in 1889. Visitors can enjoy a picnic area, walk nearby trails around the dam’s remains, and take part in the park’s interpretive program. Visitors may also learn about the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and visit the Club House (weather and staff permitting), which the park acquired in 2006.Ten miles northeast of Johnstown off Route 219 North. Visitor center open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; park open year-round, sunrise to sunset. Entrance fees: 16 older, $4.00/person; Children 15 under, free. Free entrance to holders of Federal Recreation Passports. Groups are welcome; advance notice required for special programs. South Fork, PA 814-495-4643. www.nps.gov/jofl

1889 Clubhouse

In 2006 several historic structures in the St. Michael’s Historic District and 1889 Club House were acquired by the National Park Service as part of Johnstown Flood National Memorial. These structures were part of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, owners of the South Fork Dam and Lake Conemaugh when the dam broke on May 31, 1889, killing 2,209 people. The most intriguing of these properties is the three story clubhouse which had forty-seven rooms and lodged most of the members of the club. Also included in the properties acquired are the Brown and Moorhead Cottages, and the clubhouse annex. During the summer months the clubhouse is open for visitation. The other three structures are not open to the public. Flood National Memorial Johnstown. 814-495-4643 www.nps.gov/jofl

Visitors view exhibit at Johnstown Flood Museum

The Johnstown Flood Museum recreates the 1889 Flood with exhibits and artifacts, along with the Academy Award® winning film The Johnstown Flood(see below). Exhibits also include “The Oklahoma House”, a pre-fabricated structure sent to Johnstown to house flood survivors

Visit their website as hours change seasonally

304 Washington Street, Johnstown, PA 814-539-1889. www.jaha.org

Grandview Cemetery

Grandview Cemetery features the Monument of Tranquility overlooking the Unknown Plot of 777 graves of unidentified victims who perished in the 1889 Johnstown Flood. Also interred there are Lt. Col. Boyd “Buzz” Wagner, the first American air ace of World War II and John G. McCrory, founder of the McCrory 5-and-10 store chain. Gates open daily 7:30 a.m. Gates close at dusk May 1-October 31. Gates close at 5 p.m. Nov. 1-April 30. Office hours 7:30 a.m. - 4:15 p.m. Groups welcome. 801 Millcreek Road, Johnstown, PA 814-535-2652.

Path of the Flood trail marker

The historic Path of the Flood walking and bicycling trail extends from Ehrenfeld Borough Park and follows the fateful path of the devastating Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. Historical interpretive signs relate the story of the rushing waters and the terrible aftermath. Continuing to Mineral Point, the trail joins the National Park Service Staple Bend Tunnel Site. Although there is a 3/4-mile gap, the trail continues from the Franklin Borough Ball Field to the Flood Museum in the City of Johnstown.

A self-guided, downtown walking tour highlights buildings that withstood the flood waters or had a significant part in sheltering flood victims. Compiled by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, the map and list of more than 15 sites is available at the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 111 Roosevelt Blvd; at the Flood Museum at 304 Washington Street, downtown Johnstown; or online at http://www.jaha.org/VisitorResources/downtown.html.

View of Stone Arch Bridge from Point Park
View of Stone Arch Bridge from Point Park

Point Park sits along Washington Street, near the juncture of Roosevelt Boulevard and across from the Point Stadium. The park provides a vantage point for viewing the confluence of Johnstown's rivers and the Stone Arch Bridge. Built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1887, the Stone Arch Bridge survived the 1889 Flood but caused greater devastation as flood waters and debris, unable to pass through the arches, caught fire.

Johnstown's City Hall
Photo of Johnstown's City Hall; Photo credit: Kevin J. Slonka

Several commemorative plaques placed on the outside corner of Johnstown’s City Hall mark the depth of the three major floods that destroyed downtown Johnstown. The plaques are mounted at the corner of the building at the junction of Main and Market Streets, facing the Market Street side.The flood water depths are as follows: 1889 Flood – 21 feet; 1936 Flood – 17 feet; and 1977 Flood – 8 ft. 6”. 401 Main Street, Johnstown, PA

 

 

The Johnstown Flood Makes the Big Screen

The Johnstown Flood DVD cover
The Johnstown Flood DVD cover

The Academy Award® winning movie, The Johnstown Flood, was commissioned by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association to celebrate the opening of the Flood Museum in 1989. It is the only museum-commissioned documentary that has won an Academy Award® in the short subject documentary category. **

 

The film shown at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial entitled Black Friday was produced by the National Park Service. Parts of the movie were filmed at Harper’s Ferry Center in West Virginia while most footage was taken from a 1926 silent movie, The Johnstown Flood. **

The animated short from 1946, Mighty Mouse and The Johnstown Flood, features our rodent hero using super-hypnosis to turn back time and “save the day.” **

Source: ** “Johnstown on the Big Screen” by Mike Mastovich, Johnstown Magazine, May 2007, page 21

Current Weather

70°F - partly cloudy

Follow Us

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • YouTube