Johnstown Flood Museum, Pennsylvania: Memories of a Man-Made Disaster

The Johnstown Flood Museum brings to life one of the worst man-made disasters in U.S. history — the tragic flood that devastated this industrial town on May 31, 1889.

After the South Fork Dam 14 miles north of town failed during an intense rainstorm, a 35-foot-high wall of water killed over 2,200 of the area's 30,000 residents, injured thousands more and left tens of thousands homeless.

The museum does a wonderful job of explaining how the flood occurred (a hunting club for wealthy industrialists owned the poorly maintained dam). It also chronicles the ensuing devastation and what life was like before and after the flood in this booming town, a steel-making center in the late 1800s.

Exhibits also show how Americans, led by the American Red Cross and founder Clara Barton, rallied around Johnstown with a massive relief effort that helped heroic residents rebuild.

Another highlight is the 1989 Academy Award-winning documentary film, The Johnstown Flood. A newer addition is a so-called Oklahoma House. Originally manufactured for Oklahoma Territory homesteaders, these prefabricated dwellings were sent to Johnstown to house flood survivors.

There's another museum nearby that's also worth a visit: the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center. Creative interactive displays offer a fascinating look at the experiences of immigrants arriving here at the turn of the century.

While you're here, don't miss the 900-foot-high Inclined Plane, a short railway built in 1891. Built at a 71% grade, it carries cars and people and is the steepest railway of its kind in the world.

At the top, an observation deck affords a great view of Johnstown and the surrounding area, once the scene of so much devastation over a century ago.

Before You Visit

Johnstown is where U.S. Highway 219 and State Highway 56 meet, about 68 miles east of Pittsburgh.

To learn more call the Johnstown Area Heritage Association at 1-814-539-1889.

More to See

The 165-acre Johnstown Flood National Memorial, where you can see the remains of the South Fork Dam, is about 10 miles northeast of town, just southeast of U.S. Highway 219. For details call 1-814-495-4643.

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