Historical Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 1901
Johnstown, settled in 1770, is perhaps most famous for its three major floods. The "Great Flood" of May 31, 1889, occurred after the South Fork Dam collapsed 14.1 miles (22.7 km) upstream from the city during heavy rains. At least 2,209 people died as a result of the flood and subsequent fire that raged through the debris. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt nicknamed Johnstown, the Flood City in 1936. Typed Letter Typed Unsigned, 07/17/1901 - 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 with a center fold. Envelope: MFG from: Enterprise Steam Laundry, Johnstown, PA; postal marking and cancelled stamp recto and rec'd in Pittsburg, PA on verso. Letter and Envelope show normal age-toning and slight staning with abrasions. Overall, very good condition.
This rich fertile canyon or deep gorge stands today as a historical landmark plus, in the center of downtown the renown "Historical Museum of Johnstown" as a reminder of the past.
Johnstown was formally organized as a town in 1800 by the Swiss German immigrant Joseph Johns (born Josef Schantz). The settlement was initially known as "Schantzstadt", but was soon anglicized to Johnstown. From 1834 to 1854, the city was a port and key transfer point along the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal.
Perhaps the most famous passenger who traveled via the canal to visit Johnstown briefly was Charles Dickens in 1842.
By 1854, canal transport became redundant with the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which now spanned the state. With the coming of the railroads, the city’s growth improved.
Johnstown became a stop on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad and was connected with the Baltimore & Ohio. The railroads provided large-scale development of the region’s mineral wealth.
Floods were almost a yearly event in the valley during the 1880s. On the afternoon of May 30, 1889, following a quiet Memorial Day ceremony and a parade, it began raining in the valley. The next day water filled the streets, and rumors began that a dam holding an artificial lake in the mountains to the northeast might give way. It did, and an estimated 20 million tons of water began spilling into the winding gorge that led to Johnstown some 14 miles (23 km) away.
The destruction in Johnstown occurred in only about 10 minutes. What had been a thriving steel town with homes, churches, saloons, a library, a railroad station, electric street lights, a roller rink, and two opera houses was buried under mud and debris. Out of a population of approximately 30,000 at the time, at least 2,209 people are known to have perished in the disaster. An infamous site of a major fire during the flood was the old stone Pennsylvania Railroad bridge located where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh rivers join to form the Conemaugh River. The bridge still stands today.
The Johnstown Flood established the American Red Cross as the pre-eminent emergency relief organization in the United States. Founder Clara Barton, then 67, came to Johnstown with 50 doctors and nurses and set up tent hospitals as well as temporary “hotels” for the homeless, and stayed on for five months to coordinate relief efforts.
The mills were back in operation within a month. The Cambria Works grew, and Johnstown became more prosperous than ever. The disaster had not destroyed the community but strengthened it. Later generations would draw on lessons learned in 1889.
The Flood combined with the gnawing effects of the Great Depression left Johnstown struggling again, but only temporarily. Johnstown's citizens mobilized to achieve a permanent solution to the flooding problem and wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt pleading for federal aid.
Starting in August 1938, continuing for the next five years, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers gouged, widened, deepened, and realigned 9.2 miles (14.8 km) of river channel in the city, and encased the river banks in concrete and reinforced steel. In a campaign organized by the Chamber of Commerce, thousands of Johnstown's citizens wrote to friends and relatives across the country hoping to bring new business to the town.