Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
The Great Johnstown Flood of 1889

Rebuild or Move on?

A couple with two young daughters pose in front of a canvas tent with a sign advertising sandwiches and drinks for sale.

Thomas Parfitt and his family didn't waste time getting back into business after the Flood! They sold sandwiches and coffee to relief workers from this Army tent.

Community Decision and Personal Choice

The Great Johnstown (PA) Flood of 1889, the result of a record-setting rainstorm speeding the failure of an earthen dam, was the top media story of its day. The catastrophe, in which over 2,200 were killed, dominated the front pages of newspapers around the world just as the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001 and in our generation. In fact, until 9/11, the Flood was the single largest loss of American civilian lives in one day (the greater number of deaths of the Galveston hurricane disaster of 1900 happened over several days).

Despite the fact that their hometowns were nearly scoured off the map, the survivors of the Great Johnstown (PA) Flood of 1889 almost immediately began rebuilding their homes and businesses. The world responded to stories of the Flood with an unprecedented out-pouring of charity.

To an amazing extent survivors of the Johnstown Flood of 1889 were able to put the trauma of the Flood behind them. As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina suggests, perhaps we should not be so quick to forget!

Rebuild or Move on?

   ** Referenced PA Standards **

Emphasis: Social Studies, Civics, Economics, Character Education, Visual Arts (architecture)

After witnessing the destruction at Johnstown and surrounding communities, it is a wonder that everyone didn't abandon the ravaged Conemaugh Valley. The enormity of personal and financial loss makes rebuilding even more unimaginable.

This thread looks at the process of rebuilding:

The decision to rebuild or move on was a personal, as well as a community, decision. Many individuals, having lost every family and physical tie to Johnstown, did move on. Others who went to stay out-of-town with friends or relatives simply stayed away.

The majority of flood survivors did stay in the Valley. Cambria Iron and Steel rebuilt its mill and people got back to work. Incredibly, by 1910, Johnstown's population had more than doubled since 1889. Its steel production had quadrupled! An inspirational story any time, it is especially so at a time when western Pennsylvania is trying to rebuild after its economic base was destroyed by less obvious, but just as devastating, market forces.

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