Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Great Johnstown Flood

I feel like I should reintroduce myself, since it has been so long since I wrote anything on my little blog. But, I'll skip that for now!

Jamestown Flood Museum. This was the original Carnegie Library - Andrew Carnegie later donated libraries to towns all over the United States.
We aren't living in Pennsylvania anymore - we are back home in Texas! That is part of why you haven't heard from me in a while. BUT, my husband will still be working in PA on occasion and this last week was one of those occasions! We drove up to spend a few days with him and while he was on a job, we headed to Johnstown to learn more about the Great Johnstown Flood.

FRitW in front of the back wall of the museum. This wall of debris is designed to show what the flood looked like bearing down on Johnstown. 


We learned about so much more than just the flood! There are tons of things to do in Johnstown, but we only had a few hours, so we tried to get the cream of the crop as quickly as possible.

This display used lighting to show the timeline and path of the flood. 
Johnstown, Pennsylvania is best known for the massive flood that occurred May 31, 1889. More than 2000 people died when the South Fork Dam broke, sending millions of gallons of water down the valley towards Johnstown. Other communities along the way were destroyed or spared depending on their elevation and the path of the flood. As the flood approached Johnstown it had the force of Niagara Falls barreling down the valley and carried with it debris from trees, buildings, and the dam itself. It cut a path through downtown Johnstown, where the townsfolk had settled in on the second floors of homes and buildings in anticipation of the typical floods that occurred somewhat regularly. However, the townsfolk were not prepared in any way for the force and size of this flood, and as a result, one tenth of the population died.

The 'stone bridge'. This bridge held through the flood, but unfortunately captured the debris which led to a fire and 80 more deaths. The fire burned for 3 days. In the background is Cambria Iron Works (which was featured in the Iron and Steel Gallery)

There is much more to Johnstown than just this flood though. We learned about the flood at the Johnstown Flood Museum, located in the first Carnegie library ever built. Then we moved on to the Heritage Discovery Center to learn more about Johnstown before and after the flood.

In the water room of the Children's museum. We built multiple dams and flooded the resevoir. None held and multiple little yellow, foam houses were washed away!




The Heritage Discovery Center is a conglomeration of museums within one building. Our favorite part was the Johnstown Children's Museum on the 3rd floor. We learned about floods and dams, coal mining, the steel industry, and the town of Johnstown in general.

The coal chute slide!
A couple of random coal miners (aka FRitW and MT) working hard in the coal mine. Maggie helped too - but she didn't dress up!

Our second favorite area was the first floor and the exhibit "America: Through Immigrant Eyes". In this exhibit, we chose an immigrant and proceeded through the displays as that person. We tried to choose characters similar to each of us - either in age or station, and that helped make this exhibit more personal. MT ended up with Anna, a 9 year old Slovakian peasant girl (no boy character was available),  FRitW chose Josef, a 12 year old Polish peasant boy, Maggie had Maria, a 19 year old Italian girl who had come to Johnstown with a promise of marriage, and I chose Katerina, a Hungarian goose farmer coming to meet up with her husband, who had arrived 3 years before. We had cards that interacted with the displays. This was very interesting! (Apparently I was too involved in being a goose farmer to remember to take many photos...)

12 year old Josef might have been put to work in a coal mine. Here we separated slate from coal in the immigrant exhibit.

Third favorite was the Iron and Steel gallery. This area basically told the story of steel production through an interactive film made just weeks before the Cambria Iron Works shut its doors in 1992. The movie was informative and quite interesting! (But I didn't take any photos at all in this area)


It is very hard to explain what an Incline Railway is if you have not seen one. The wheels of the cars are built at an angle so the car remains level. We have been on the inclines in Pittsburgh, but they are more like a trolley car, with benches to sit on. This incline is open, with one small bench. It is designed to hold one car, 6 motorcycles, or 60 people. 

We finished our trip to Johnstown with a ride up the steepest Incline Railway in the world. This incline railway helped, in later floods, to save lives by getting people to higher ground. We ate supper at the top and enjoyed some beautiful views!

At the top of the incline railway looking down over Johnstown.

Note that Johnstown is in a 'bowl' completely surrounded by mountains except where the river enters. 
Eating at Asiago's Tuscan Italian Restaurant. We were the only ones enjoying the balcony, probably because light rain was falling now and again.  ~grin~

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