Johnstown Panorama A Quick Tour of the  
City of Johnstown, Pennsylvania 
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The City of Johnstown nestled in the infamous flood plain 
Flood and Rivers Industry Downtown

This page is intended to convey a small idea of what it is like to live in the City of Johnstown in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania. The picture above is a thumb nail of a larger (60k) picture that is the most common representation of Johnstown because it is easy to take from the observation deck of the Johnstown Incline Plane, it shows a large part of the Central Business District and it is a photograph which has been taken many times over the years .
after math of the 1889 flood The Little Conemaugh River Valley is in the upper center of the picture at the top of the page and is the source of the great flood of 1889. A wall of water reported to be 60 feet high exited from the valley and crashed into the hillside below the Incline Plane. The center of the city of Johnstown which was in its path was obliderated except for a few Structures.

St. John Gualbert Roman Catholic Cathedral is the Co-Cathedral for the Johnstown Altoona Diocese."The convent and school of St. John's were destroyed in the 1889 flood. Only the chapel of the convent remained. St. John's was set on fire by a floating house. It was not rebuilt until 1896. The picture on the right is from the regional post office located on Locust St. Co-Cathedral

Little Conemaugh River The Little Conemaugh River is channelled through the City of Johnstown today. This picture is of the Little Conemaugh River from Point Park, immediately above the junction of the Little Conemaugh River and the Stonycreek River.

The "Stone Bridge" is on the Conemaugh River immediately below the junction of the Stonycreek (left) and Little Conemaugh (right) Rivers.
The stone bridge now appears to be concrete, as it has been repaired many times since its construction by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1800's. During the Flood of 1889, the flood wave pushed the timbers from the smashed buildings into the bridge and a debris dam was created complete with whirpool. Many people both dead and alive where trapped in the debris. After the main force of the flood a pool was maintained over the city by this dam. The debris caught fire and many potential survivors of the flood were burned alive.  Picture from 1889 Flood Stone Bridge

Point Park Today a small park (Point Park) and eternal torch (which won't stay lit because of the air currents) is a memorial to the disaster at the Stone Bridge. 

Conemaugh River Gap from Broad St.Johnstown is a city defined by its topography. 34 square miles of mountain upland drain down into the city and then out the deepest river gap in the eastern United States. The City itself is an approximately two mile wide flood plain formed by the junction of the two rivers and the narrow Conemaugh River Gap which lets the water out. The Conemaugh River Gap is over 1600 feet deep when measured from the top of Rager Mountain (on the North, right in the picture) and the level of the river at its outfall from the gap in Robinson, in Indiana County. The picture above was taken from Broad Street in Cambria City looking to the west at the river gap.

Johnstown was declared to be a "Flood Free" City between 1939 and 1977. Following the St. Patrick's day flood of 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt came to Johnstown and and announced a multi million dollar project to build river walls to protect the City from future floods. The project was designed and built by the US Army Corps of Engineers as one of their first major flood control projects. Unemployed steel workers and coal miners were used for the labor making it one of the early WPA type projects during the Great Depression.  

Conemaugh River in Coopersdale This is a view of the Conemaugh River in the Coopersdale section of the City of Johnstown immediately before it enters the Conemaugh Gap. The Flood walls are clearly seen in this picture.

Flood Museum The First Johnstown Public Library was given to the people of the City of Johnstown by Andrew Carnegie. After the 1889 Flood, he rebuilt the library. Ironically, Andrew Carnegie was one of the select group of Pittsburgh industrialists who owned the SouthFork Hunting and Fishing Club and the poorly maintained "recreation" dam which broke on May 31, 1889 causing the Johnstown Flood. Today the building is owned by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association and houses the Flood Museum. The Museum has several world class exhibits both relating to the 1889 flood and the industrial and immigrant heritage of our area. Their exhibits include a documentary movie on the 1889 flood which won an Oscar Award for best documentary.

Johnstown is about much more than just disasterous floods. The same topography which lead to flooding made it a major transportation link between the Atlantic Coast and Ohio and the midwest. Transportation led to industry and the town boomed from the mid 1800's until after the American economy restructured itself following World War II.

Gautier Mills Pictured on the left are the Gautier Mills. These were built by the Cambria Iron Company in the late 1800's, They sit on the site of the canal basin built for the Allegheny Portage Railroad in the 1840's. These Mills have been continuously used since their construction. They were operated from 1923 through the early 1990's by the Bethlehem Steel Co., recently they were sold and form a part of the Johnstown America Corporation's steel making facilities in the city. 

Johnstown is a small town and its growth was restricted by the narrow valleys. Our Steel Mills were large, but not the largest, Pittsburgh holds that distinction. However, the Mills in Johnstown were the longest. The Mills stretched out nearly 13 miles along the banks of the two rivers and the parts were connected by a private railroad, the Conemaugh & Blacklick Railroad Part of the Bethlem Mills

Pennsylvania Railroad Station 


The Steel Mills, Railroads and Coal Mines all converged at Johnstown. This picture is of the original Pennsylvania Railroad Station and shows the upper portion of remaining blast furnaces in the backround (center). The blast furnaces have not been used for over 20 years. Electric furnaces and remelting scrap replaced the monsters that made primary steel out of ore long ago. These furnaces have been spared the wreckers ball and the salvage dealers to become park of a National Heritage Park planned for a portion of the Mill site in Johnstown. 

Pictured here is the original office and Blacksmith shops for the Cambria Iron Company. The Johnstown plant was the site of the first large scale steel production in the United Staes which used the Kelly process. Kelly, a technician who worked the first modern steel mills in England was hired by the Cambria Iron Company to set up steel production at Johnstown. Johnstown's early importance in iron making was a result of the presence of coal, wood, limestone and iron ore. When industry shifted to steel, and local supplies of iron and limestone were depleted, in the late 1800's, the existing infrastructure and skilled workers led to a build up of a steel industry which had resources brought here by rail. 

In the right backround of the picture is the Johnstown Axle Works which is a spin off company formed when Bethlehem closed down operations in Johnstown. 

Bethlehem Dispensary The Cambria Iron Co. and later Bethlehem, Dispensary is a beautiful Building located on Washington Street across from the Flood Museum. The building had been abandoned for many years and there was some talk that it would be torn down. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections purchased the building in 1995 and after rennovations, began using it as a halfway house for assisting criminals prior to parole.  

In addition to the dispensary, the Cambria Iron Co. built and operated an industrial hospital on Prospect Hill which is behind the Dispensary and across the Little Conemaugh River. 

This picture is taken from the Brownstown Borough hillside across Cambria City to Minersville on the far hill. Cambria City is an incredible community, reputed to have a bar and church on every block. The churches of Cambria City were established by the different immigrant nationalities. The art in these churches were a celebration of the new citizens of Johnstown of their heritage and their faith. 

The valley in the upper right is occuppied by Hinkston Run and formerly was the site of Coke Ovens operated by the Bethlehem Steel Company. The entire valley nearly three miles long is owned by the Bethlehem Steel Company. At the head of the valley at the city limits is a water supply dam, the Hinkston Run Reservoir (industrial water only) and Riders dump, the disposal site for Bethlehem's industrial waste while they operated in Johnstown. 



Pictures of Johnstown in 1889 (Flood)  from the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Johnstown Information Page

Page by Bill Barbin
Updated June 1998