Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: First-person account

Development Narrows the Rivers

Rev. David Beale relaying a conversation early on May 31

On my way home, I met my neighbor, John Dibert; we discussed the situation and mutually agreed that the filling up of the margins of the streams was the cause of the town being overflowed for the want of sufficient outlet for the water; and that if the two streams continued to rise simultaneously, the Cambria Iron Company having reduced the width of the channel below the confluence of the Little Conemaugh and Stony Creek to such an extent that there was insufficient room for the escape of the water, it would be backed up and our cellars overflowed, which was the full extent of the damage we anticipated.

The width of the Stony Creek had been fixed by ordinances of the borough and an agreement with the Cambria Iron Company at one hundred and seventy-five feet; its actual width before the adoption of this ordinance, as was marked by the spans of the bridge at the end of Franklin Street, was two hundred and forty feet. The width of the Little Conemaugh, as fixed by the ordinances of the boroughs of Johnstown and Millville, and an agreement between the two boroughs and the Cambria Iron Company, was one hundred and ten feet, making a total water way of the two streams, as fixed by the ordinance, of two hundred and eighty-five feet; whereas the Conemaugh proper being the stream below the confluence of the Stony Creek and Little Conemaugh was reduced by the Cambria Iron Company, filling on either side, so that the water was less than two hundred feet in width.

This was the point discussed by Mr. Dibert and myself, and he proposed that after the flood was over, a meeting of the citizens should be called to take steps toward compelling the Cambria Iron Company to remove its deposits from the bed of the river and restore the stream to its original width and give an outlet for the waters, so that the property-holders in the lower end of Johnstown should not, every spring and fall, be inconvenienced by the flooding of their cellars by the back waters. We separated and I never saw him again.

Excerpt from David Beale, Through the Johnstown Flood, 1890.

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