Melting Pot: Johnstown’s Ethnic Heritage
At the turn of the century, Johnstown stood at the forefront of an industrial revolution that was changing the look and life of America. Efficient, modernized steel production in Johnstown’s mills was helping to drive the United States into the Industrial Revolution. Pennsylvania’s iron processing plants were turning out millions of tons of steel for a new America - steel for railroads, warships, suspension bridges, tall city buildings and common nails.
Between 1870 and 1914, millions of people were leaving Europe - “the old world” in one of the greatest mass immigrations in history. For the first time, entire families of common people - oppressed or persecuted at home - gained power to change their destinies. Thousands left, hoping to create better lives for themselves and their families. Many found work in Johnstown and established roots in this west central Pennsylvania city.
Explore Cambria City… Our Growing Cultural District
The 10-block community of Cambria City was established in 1853 just after the steel making giant, the Cambria Iron Works became established in this area. A forerunner of Bethlehem Steel Corporation and United States Steel Corporation, the Iron Works attracted thousands of immigrants seeking work in the mills and mines. The area was a true melting pot of immigrants who found work in Johnstown’s cigar factories, distilleries, and breweries and established churches and social clubs while preserving traditions and cultures. Faith is both alive and lively in Cambria City as this cultural, colorful neighborhood makes a dramatic transition! Today, this is Johnstown’s arts and cultural district.
See “America: Through Immigrant Eyes”
Spectacular, three-story Iron & Steel Gallery includes a theater showing the film "The Mystery of Steel," which tells the story of how Johnstown played a crucial role in the early days of the steel industry - including high-definition footage of Johnstown's steel mills in 1992, just weeks before the mills closed. The exhibition A Steelworker's Story displays personal effects, product samples, signage and other memorabilia from the people who powered Johnstown's steel mills.
Also at the Heritage Discovery Center: Johnstown Children’s Museum, Galliker’s Café, Ethnic Social Club and many events and activities throughout the year.
Inhabited by the same family from when it was built in the 1860s through 1990, this one-of-a-kind house museum was restored to its 19th-century appearance, illustrating the domestic lives of immigrants who moved to Johnstown to work in the steel mills and coal mines.
Johnstown’s ethnicity lies in the congregations of the Cambria City Churches. Once bustling with worshippers, most churches have merged under the direction of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. Saint Columba’s Roman Catholic Church (Tenth Ave. and Broad St.) was home to Irish Catholics; its original building served as a relief station and morgue for the 1889 flood victims. Saint Emerich’s (Sixth Ave. and Chestnut) was the Hungarian community’s second Catholic church. Saint Casimir’s (500–511 Power St.) had its origins as a Polish lodge; coal mining accidents that killed forty adult male lodge members delayed the building of the Romanesque church. With its twin five-story bell towers, Saint Stephen’s (Fourth Ave. and Chestnut St.) was home to the largest Slovakian Catholic community in the country. Saint Rochus (Eighth Ave. and Chestnut St.) formed around a Croatian community, which built a church, school and convent. German Catholics went to Immaculate Conception Church (Third Ave. and Broad St.), home of the oldest parish in Cambria City.
Others besides Roman Catholics also formed tight-knit communities. Saint Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church (401–413 Power St.) was founded by Ruthenians. Saint George’s Serbian Orthodox Church (300 Chestnut) was built in 1911 as Saint Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church. The Hungarian Reformed Church (Ninth Ave and Chestnut St.) was built in 1901. Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church (711 Chestnut) formed a congregation in 1914, which held services only in Slovak for many years.