Saturday, November 23, 2013

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

 The visitor center sits on a hill above the ruins of the South Fork Dam which failed in 1889 killing more than 2,000 people living downstream in the small towns along the Little Conemaugh River and in the flats of the big steel city of Johnstown.  A good view of the wooded valley, which had been filled with water to form the lake where members of the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club fished and boated, can be seen from the visitor center. The club bought the land in 1880 and after making inadequate repairs and modifications to an existing dam allowed the lake to fill to levels never reached in the past.

  The club members also built a large clubhouse and a village of three story vacation houses on the far side of the lake, visible from the visitor center. Most of the vacation houses are gone and the area is now the small town of St. Michaels. After the flood the members abandoned their houses. None of them ever returned to the area. The National Park Service owns the clubhouse and three of the cottages. The clubhouse is being renovated and is opened for ranger led tours in the summer.
The visitor center is all accessible. The Unger farm house (opened during the summer season) is located near the visitor center. The first floor and basement are accessible. The path leading to the house is grassy gravel and a little rough. A paved path leads from a small parking lot to the north side edge of the dam ruins.

  The visitor center lot has long bus/RV spaces. The dam path lot is large enough for most RVs.  Museum
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  1. The human like figure in your picture fooled me, didn't know at first if it was a foolish person trying to get a better picture or what! Did research and saw that it depicts a survivor's!

    How much longer before you all head south? Soon I hope. --Dave

  2. The entire Johnstown flood story is riveting but Victor Heiser's survival story is really amazing. After the flood he went on to save countless lives working as a doctor overseas. His story is the center piece of the museum so I'm kind of surprised that it's not easy to find on the park website.

    We're heading south soon. It's really cold here! Thanksgiving at my sister's in DC then we'll be meandering along. See ya down there!

  3. Still here in coooooold PA. 20* last night with 35 mph winds and gust to 45mph. Expected colder tonight.

    1. Hope you get out soon! We haven't made it down far enough to be warm but we're on our way. :-)

  4. The museum you visited is actually the old city Library that Andrew Carnegie donated to the city after the flood as part of the relief committee that the club formed.

    1. Yes, it is. As a former Pittsburgher I'm not sure how to feel about Carnegie. He built the city into what it was during the industrial age but his immense wealth came at the expense of his workers who made very little money working in dangerous conditions. Over 500 men died every year in the early 1900s.

      Carnegie did give away much of his fortune and the libraries are a lasting legacy. Most of them are still libraries used by many people including me but still I can't help but think that he could have made the lives of the mill workers and their families better by paying a decent wage and making the mills safer. Then he would not have been so overwhelmed by guilt.