The Johnstown Flood
On May 30, 1889 the South Fork Dam, which maintained a pleasure lake for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and their families, failed due to very heavy rains and poor maintenance by the dam'... Read allOn May 30, 1889 the South Fork Dam, which maintained a pleasure lake for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and their families, failed due to very heavy rains and poor maintenance by the dam's owners. The burst dam sent a wall of water and debris, 40 feet high and half a mile wide... Read allOn May 30, 1889 the South Fork Dam, which maintained a pleasure lake for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and their families, failed due to very heavy rains and poor maintenance by the dam's owners. The burst dam sent a wall of water and debris, 40 feet high and half a mile wide, 14 miles downstream to the bustling industrial city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. More tha... Read all
The South Fork earthen Dam (actually located to the North and East of Johnstown, along US Route 219 near the Borough of Ehrenfield, adjacent to the Borough of South Fork, PA - for which it was named) broke in May 1889 (not 1888) after Pittsburgh industrialists (Carnegie, Mellon, et al) failed to properly maintain the dam and the lake formed by the dam crested the dam's breast.
The South Fork earthen dam had originally been built to supply water to the Pennsylvania Canal during the summer and other periods when the natural water flow was lower than needed. When the dam was no longer needed by the Pennsylvania Canal, it was sold to a consortium of Pittsburgh industrialists including Carnegie and Mellon who had a Hunting and Fishing Club on the lake's shores.
In addition to fiddling with the spillway so that their prize stocked fish couldn't escape, the Pittsburgh industrialists also lowered the breast of the dam so that they could widen the road that crossed the dam's breast and stupidly blocked the emergency flood prevention outlets at the base of the dam so that their fish couldn't escape.
Over 2,000 died in this man-made disaster, most when the debris and floatsam of flooded Johnstown, PA - mostly wood - backed up at the Stone Bridge and caught fire (a railroad bridge that is still used today and which crosses US Route 56 and the Conemaugh River).
Having grown up in Johnstown, I can tell you that Johnstown, PA is a wonderful community that is still struggling to rebound after the demise of the steel and coal industry in the 1980's.
Located east of Pittsburgh, PA and just north of the Somerset, PA exit on the PA Turnpike, it is worth a visit. When you do visit, also check out the Lemon House, located in Cresson, PA on US Route 22 and the Horseshoe Curve, located just east of the Lemon House also off US Route 22 near Altoona, PA.
The Lemon House was a stopping point along the Pennsylvania Canal after the canal boats climbed the Allegheny Mountains from the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA and before the canal boats portaged to the Johnstown, PA canal basin. The Lemon House and the Johnstown Flood Memorial at the remains of the dam's breast are National Park Service sites. There is a non-profit Flood Museum in downtown Johnstown, PA that is also worth the trip.
Finally, in addition to the above sites to see in the Johnstown, PA region, the Flight 93 Memorial is near Somerset, PA and the Miner's Memorial (where the nine (9) miner's were stuck in the ground) is just north of Somerset, PA along Route 985.
I am not affiliated with any of these organizations, but I've visited all of them.
- Jun 28, 2007