the September / October edition of The Quarter Roll
On May 31, 1889, one of the worst natural disasters in our country’s
history happened when Johnstown, Pennsylvania was severely crippled by
flooding. Before the disaster occurred, an exclusive mountain resort had
been built in the South Fork area of Pennsylvania and memberships were
sold to the wealthiest Pittsburghers. The resort included a dam that held
back the waters of Lake Conemaugh. The dam’s spillway was a wall at the
end of the dam that was made of mud, rocks, and other raw materials. It
was the inappropriate maintenance of this spillway and an unusually heavy
rainfall that led to the wall giving way to the bulging Lake Conemaugh.
Once the spillway broke on May 31, an additional 20 million tons of water
rushed toward an already flooding Johnstown. The result was the
destruction of much of Johnstown and several other smaller towns in a
matter of hours.
Johnstown Flood Memorial
Today the Johnstown Flood National Memorial allows visitors to explore and
experience many of the events of May 31, 1889. The Memorial building and
property includes the original property overseer’s house, a short movie
that recreates the events of the day, many artifacts from Johnstown and
the flood aftermath, and an incredible view of the area that contained the
dam and spillway.
Admission to the Memorial building also includes a tour of the original
South Fork Clubhouse. Visitors are taken by van to the clubhouse by a park
ranger. Once at the clubhouse visitors are given access to this historic
building so they can see much of the interior and the rooms where wealthy
Pittsburghers would socialize.
South Fork Dam and Spillway
After visiting the clubhouse the park ranger continues the van tour with a
stop at the site of the original South Fork Dam and the location where the
original spillway once stood. The dam is now drained and visitors can
explore trails through the area that once held back Lake Conemaugh. A
small bridge and observation deck, located right over the original
spillway, are easily accessible by foot. This is the spot where the
Johnstown Flood began.
Plot of the Unknown
After the flood many bodies couldn't be identified. In order to address
this problem, a plot was purchased at Grandview Cemetery and named the
"Unknown Plot". This area of the cemetery contains the bodies of 777 flood
victims who could not be identified. Visiting the plot is another
emotionally moving and interesting part of this trip’s overall experience.
Taking the Johnstown Incline up Yoder Hill provides visitors to Johnstown
with an incredible view of Johnstown and the flood path. At the very top
of Yoder Hill you can also see one of the largest American Flags in the
country, visit the incline gift shop, watch the mechanical gears of the
incline work, and explore the incline visitor center. The City View Bar
and Grill can also be found at the top of the incline.
Johnstown Flood National Memorial - $4.00 per person / kids under 16 are
free (admission includes van tour)
Johnstown Incline - $4.00 round trip for adults / $2.50 for kids 2-12
Grandview Cemetery – no charge