Reed Travel Features
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- On May 30, 1889, the residents of this town
lined Main Street for the Memorial Day parade.
Just as the festivities were ending, a heavy downpour that
lasted for two days began.
As people raced for their homes to escape the rain, they were
unaware of the tragedy that would follow.
On May 31, the South Fork dam gave way, sending a wall of water
surging down a mountain and killing more than 2,000 Johnstown
The flood brought national attention to the small steel
producing community -- relief assistance and supplies came from all
over the U.S. as well as from Europe.
Scholars and researchers are still examining the causes and
consequences of the disaster.
The dam originally was a reservoir for the Pennsylvania Mainline
Canal system and later became the center of the South Fork Fishing
& Hunting Club, a rural resort for wealthy Pennsylvanians. The
club made several changes to the dam, including lowering the breast
of the structure so that carriages could pass over it.
Researchers have pointed to these changes as well as to general
neglect as contributors to the dam's collapse.
Clients interested in learning about the disaster can tour the
Johnstown Flood Museum, a repository of flood artifacts and
memorabilia that is visited by more than 40,000 people each
Located downtown at 304 Washington St., the museum is housed in
a former Carnegie Library building.
The French Gothic structure was constructed in 1891 as part of
the flood recovery efforts with a donation from wealthy
industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
In 1973, the library building was purchased by the Johnstown
Flood Museum Association (now the Johnstown Area Heritage
Association), which opened a small museum dedicated to the
In 1989, the museum reopened its doors after a $4.1 million
The facility features multimedia exhibits on the construction of
the dam; the elite South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, which owned
the dam at the time of its collapse, and the development of the
community prior to that fateful day in 1889.
Artifacts and photographs tell of the sometimes triumphant, and
the sometimes tragic, rescue and relief efforts.
One of the museum's most stirring exhibits is the film titled
"The Johnstown Flood," which was produced by Charles Guggenheim and
won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject.
Using archival photographs, creative dramatizations and special
effects, the 26-minute film re-creates the chain of events that led
to the tragedy.
For information, call the Johnstown Area Heritage Association at