Over 130 years ago...
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 is still alive in Johnstown.
Visiting the following sites and points of interest is an unforgettable journey through a poignant time in Johnstown’s history; here the lessons of the past still apply today.
See the remains of the South Fork Dam!
This National Park Service Site is located at the ruins of the South Fork Dam that burst May 31, 1889. The dam unleashed 20,000,000 tons of water that devastated Johnstown.
A visit to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial puts into perspective the scope and size of the disaster. The Lake View Visitor Center has two floors of exhibits and a life-size “debris wall” that dramatically illustrates the flood wave that devastated Johnstown. The film Black Friday chillingly recreates that day in 1889. Visitors can also explore trails around the dam's remains and picnic areas.
There is no entrance fee.
Watch the Academy-Award® winning film!
The Johnstown Flood Museum recreates the 1889 Flood with exhibits, artifacts and the Academy Award® winning film, The Johnstown Flood. This film is the only museum-commissioned documentary that has won an Academy Award® in the short subject documentary category. The museum not only tells the story of the flood, but the town's triumphant recovery.
The museum is located in the former Cambria Library. The building was built after the flood using funds provided by Andrew Carnegie, a member of the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club, which owned the South Fork Dam.
The museum includes a relief map that illustrates the path of the flood down the Conemaugh Valley by using light and sound effects. A featured exhibit is an original "Oklahoma House", one of the first types of pre-fabricated temporary houses sent to Johnstown for flood survivors.
Visit the original club house!
Several historic structures once part of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club which owned the South Fork Dam and Lake Conemaugh when the dam failed on May 31, 1889. The three-story clubhouse had 47 rooms and lodged most of the members of the club. Clubhouse is open for visitation during the summer months as part of “Journey Around Lake Conemaugh” Van Tours.
Hike or bike the Path of the Flood Trail
Historic walking and bicycling trail following the path of the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. Interpretive signs relate the story of the rushing waters and the terrible aftermath. At Mineral Point, the trail joins the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail and continues from the Franklin Borough Ball Field to the Johnstown Flood Museum in downtown Johnstown.
Take a walking tour of flood sites.
A self-guided walking tour highlights the most notable buildings in the National Historic District of Downtown Johnstown, including many that survived the 1889 flood. The map and list of more than 15 sites is available at the Johnstown Flood Museum or online.
See the final resting place of 777 unidentified flood victims.
The Monument of Tranquility overlooks the Unknown Plot of 777 graves of unidentified 1889 Johnstown Flood Victims. Also interred 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. Groups welcome.
View the beautifully lighted Stone Arch Bridge
Built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1887, the bridge survived the 1889 Flood but caused greater devastation as flood waters and debris, unable to pass through the arches, caught fire. For three hours every evening the bridge is lighted with colorful LED lights that are programmed to reflect holidays, special events and the time of year, beginning with a 30-minute lightshow.
See the high water markings of all three Johnstown Floods
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.
1889 Flood – 21 feet
1936 Flood –17 feet
1977 Flood – 8 feet 6 inches
Commemorative activities are organized by the National Park Service and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. Generally, 2,209 luminaria are placed at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial site on the walkway and both North and South Abutments on May 31. Other interpretive programs and exhibits take place as well. Please contact the National Park Service and Johnstown Area Heritage Association for details.
The Johnstown Flood story made the big screen!
In 2003, Johnstown Flood, narrated by actor Richard Dreyfuss, was released straight to DVD.
Much of the footage from the Johnstown Flood National Memorial’s film Black Friday was taken from the 1926 silent film, The Johnstown Flood, which starred Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien.
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”.