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Johnstown Flood Museum & National Memorial


Photo of the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood

Aftermath of the Johnstown Flood

Photo courtesy National Park Service
On May 31, 1889, a 35-foot-high wall of water, set loose by days of rain and a failed dam, rushed into the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In its wake, most of the town was destroyed and more than 2,200 lives were lost. The Johnstown Flood was one of the worst natural disasters ever seen in the United States and brought in relief from all over the nation and world. For Clara Barton, the Johnstown Flood disaster was the first test for her newly formed Red Cross.

The South Fork Dam:

Events leading up to the disastrous Johnstown Flood of 1889 began years earlier when the South Fork Dam, located high in the mountains above Johnstown, fell into disrepair and partially failed while under control of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The abandoned South Fork dam and reservoir were purchased and converted into a lake by the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club, a private resort for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists, including Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The members made repairs and improvements to the dam, including lowering the top two feet to make it wide enough to create a roadway to the club. It is thought that the dam's shoddy reconstruction may have increased its vulnerability.

It Rained for Days:

On the night of May 30, 1889, heavy rain continued to pour, as it had for the several prior days. Many of Johnstown's streets were now under 2-7 feet of water, not all that uncommon of an occurrence in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is said that warnings were telegraphed to Johnstown, but the residents either didn't receive them or ignored them. Instead of evacuating, they moved their belongings up to their second floors to wait out the flood.

The Terrible Flood:

About 3:00 p.m. on May 31, 1889, water had backed up to the point where it began to spill over the South Ford Dam. It wasn't long before the entire dam broke, sending 20 million tons of water rushing down the narrow Conemaugh Valley. The "terrible wave" reportedly sounded like a freight train, and literally devoured everything in its path - houses, trees and even trains. By the time the wall of water reached Johnstown it was more than 35-feet-high at its crest and had the force of Niagara Falls.
Within minutes most of the town of Johnstown was destroyed, including 1,600 homes, 280 businesses and most of the Cambria Iron Company. Even worse was the loss of life. 2,209 people are known to have perished in the Johnstown Flood, including 400 children under the age of 10 and 99 entire families.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial:

Administered by the National Park Service, the Johnstown Flood National Memorial lets you visit the place where the great flood began, including the remains of the dam and some of the original buildings of the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club.

Hours & Admission: The Johnstown Flood National Memorial is open year-round from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for major holidays. The $4 entrance fee is good for 7 days, or you can get in with a SW Pennsylvania park pass.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial
733 Lake Road
South Fork, PA 15956
(814) 495-4643

Johnstown Flood Museum:

Located in downtown Johnstown, PA, the Johnstown Flood Museum tells the story of the tragic 1889 flood through photographs, exhibits, flood artifacts, news reports from the time, and information on the recovery and reconstruction. The Johnstown Flood Museum also shows the Academy-Award winning documentary film - "The Johnstown Flood" --every hour in comfortable theater located on the second floor.

Hours & Admission: The Johnstown Flood Museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. year round except for major holidays. Extended hours (to 7:00 p.m.) are offered on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer. Admission to the Johnstown Flood Museum is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for students.

Johnstown Flood Museum
304 Washington Street
Johnstown, PA 15901
(888) 222-1889

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