Johnstown, PA.


The story of the 1889 Johnstown flood holds a certain fascination for us , perhaps because the names are so familiar – names that we’ve heard all of our lives , the great industrialists and financiers who built Pittsburgh. Carnegie , Frick , Pitcairn, Knox , Phippps, Scaife and Mellon were among the 61 members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club which owned the lake and 160 acres of adjacent land.

The lake was originally constructed as a reservoir to provide water for a section of the Pennsylvania canal.   However  before it could be used for this purpose the canal was rendered obsolete by the railroad system. Over the next 21 years the top of the dam crumbled and drainage pipes were removed from beneath the dam. When the club bought the land the dam was in need of costly repairs. They chose to patch instead of repair. The drainage pipes which could have been used to ease pressure on the dam walls were never replaced. The top of the dam was built up with loose fill and then the water was allowed to rise above a structurally safe point. The spillway which should have kept the lake at a safe level was blocked by a debris catching fish screen because the club didn’t want their game fish escaping down the river.

After the dam failed , flooding Johnstown with 20 million tons off water , killing over 2000 people and causing 17 million dollars in property damage , the club members abandoned the property. None of them ever returned to Johnstown and the property was sold at a sheriff’s sale. Individual members contributed small amounts to help the people of Johnstown but neither they or the club ever admitted to any responsibility for the disaster. No lawsuit against the club or any member was successful.  More pictures-

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