Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Report

Consolidation: Bringing the Boroughs Together

Arthur J. Moxham

Before the Flood, every neighborhood in the Johnstown area was actually a separate borough or village. They had separate mayors and governing councils. Johnstown itself was a borough. Having so many people in charge made it hard for the towns to work together when they needed to. Many times they had talked about getting joining together to make one large city, but they could never agree about how. After the Flood, that changed.

The most important feature of the reconstruction is the consolidation of the eight borough into the one city of Johnstown. An Act of Legislature was passed in the spring of 1889, providing for erection into cities of the third class towns or contiguous boroughs of not less than ten thousand inhabitants. Johnstown becomes the first city chartered under that Act.

This has been the aim of Mr. Arthur J. Moxham and others for a long time. They have urged frequently, and the terrible disaster which was common to Johnstown proper and the boroughs determined them to renew efforts to effect the consolidation, and thus endow the new Johnstown with all the dignity, authority and advantage of a city. The considerations with which Mr. Moxham enforced this proposition are so forcible and applicable to other towns and boroughs in the State that a few of the, are here presented, with a hope that they will follow the example:

“As a matter of common sense, if thirty thousand people want to do a thing, they can best do it clubbing together and acting as a unit, and just now they have something to do. They have to get this place on its feet.

“A city with well-paved street, cleanly sidewalks, and buildings which are pleasing to the eye; in which local transit is rapid and good, in which police protection and discipline are reliable, is just as sure to have a pleasanter, healthier and more progressive life, as a cleanly and well-regulated household is sure o enjoy life more than the household accustomed to slovenliness and dirt. Let any public question arise, how much quicker the machinery of a city can be brought to bear in influencing results for its own good than that of seven o eight puny boroughs.

“Would we have suffered the calamities of the flood if we had had a city organization here? I answer emphatically, No.

“The facts which were known to all were these: A dangerous body of water existed in our neighborhood, and grave doubts were entertained on all sides as to the security of the structure which dammed it in.

“We then had the strange spectacle of the whole community, as a community, not even taking the trouble to investigate the possible danger. The reason that nothing was done is very evident – simply this: That there has never been in these valleys a competent organization, representative of the community as a whole. There have been a baker’s dozen of organizations, each representing a homeopathic proportion of the community. I will venture the assertion that if we had ha a city organization, and consequently had become accustomed to acting as a unit, years ago would this question of the South Fork dam have been settles.

“Well, we have paid for our criminal carelessness – paid for it with the lives of those dear to us – paid for it with our homes, and with our savings.

“You cannot build even a house without tools to work with, still less can you control and influence public results without the propre machinery to do it with. Take the history of affairs in Johnstown since the flood. We have had many committees. Please point out to me among these one committee, which, when it speaks on a general public question, can speak as representative of the whole community. There is not one committee in existence that has not done its work nobly and well. There is not one that has not earned the gratitude of the people; but there is also not one, which, from the nature of the case, is to-day in a position to speak for the whole people.

“Many public questions have arisen and are arising from day to day, and they are put back to slumber, and no action taken upon them. Why? Because there is no machinery of lots of little boroughs, and because life is too short and time it too quick for any sensible man to undertake the problem to try to get every little borough to think with the others on the same question.

“With a city organization our city would respond to every public need like a well-balanced piece of machinery; with your borough organizations it takes dynamite to move you.

“With a city organization you would govern yourselves, and yourselves control the results which affect you. With your borough organization you are passive like a flock of sheep, and until a dog or wolf gets after you, or until something comes along with a bell on it collar to lead you, you do not move.

“I, for one, am looking forward to the election with great longing. I am hoping that it will be the beginning of a new life for us all, with the dead past so utterly put behind us that not even the name be left, and in the place of a lot of little mismanaged boroughs without a single collective name, but called Johnstown, by courtesy, I would like to see the birth of a new and vigorous city called Conemaugh Valley – a city that has witnessed the greatest sorrow of the times, and that has enjoyed the greatest tenderness. It cannot fail to have a grand future before it if it only profits by what it has learned – we have learned so much.”

That the consolidation has now been effected is due chiefly to the efforts and influence of W. Horace Rose, A. J. Moxham, John P. Linton, W. H. Story, Dr. J. C. Sheridan, Hon. John M. Rose and Rev. James P. Tahaney.

The population of the new Johnstown is as follows:



Coopersdale....  573

Grubbtown....  497



Prospect.....  819




In addition to these borough, Moxham and the district lying above and along the Bedford Pike, and between the southern limit of Johnstown and the village of Walnut Grove, will become part and parcel of the city as soon as the proper proceedings can be had.

The population of Moxham is estimated at 1,000, and the other territory has fully 800. This would bring the total population of the new city up to 24,742.

If to this is added the population of that portion of Upper Yoder township lying immediately contiguous to Grubbtown, and whose citizens have joined those of Moxham in asking the Court for annexation to Johnstown, then the population of the city will be over 25,000.

It is regretted that our friends at East Conemaugh and Franklin could not see their way clear to join us in the creation of the new Johnstown, but it is hoped they will eventually come into the family.

From Through the Johnstown Flood, Rev. David Beale, pages 336-339

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