Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Student Resources - Johnstown Flood Museum

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.

A Community Decision and a Personal Decision

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 killed over 2,200 people and left many more thousands homeless.

Even though their hometowns were nearly wiped off the map, the survivors of the Great Johnstown (PA) Flood of 1889 almost immediately began rebuilding their homes and businesses. 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.

Rebuilding destroyed towns happened in stages and took several years:

  1. Rescue of survivors immediately after the Flood;
  2. Recovery of victims' bodies and clearing debris;
  3. Relief efforts fueled by an huge out-pouring of public charity, including the Red Cross' first disaster relief effort;
  4. Rebuilding the communities, politically and physically.
  5. Remembering those lost and the lessons learned.

The decision whether to rebuild or move on was a personal, as well as a community, decision. Many residents, who 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.

Most of the 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!

Amazingly, survivors of the Johnstown Flood of 1889 were mostly able to put the horrors of the Flood behind them. The Hurricane Katrina disaster teaches us that maybe we should not be so quick to forget!

This story would be inspirational any time. It is especially inspiring now, as western Pennsylvania rebuilds after economic damage caused by the downfall of American coal, steel, and other heavy industries.

Before your Museum Visit

Background Reading: Johnstown and the Flood

The Day After

What on earth do we do next?

Stay and Rebuild or Leave and Start Over?

During your Museum Visit

After your Museum Visit

Rescue, Relief, and Recovery

Healing Takes Time

Timeline Directions

  • Color-Code the events listed (on days with more than one event, color-code each event separately):
    • Rescue: Red
    • Recover: Orange
    • Relief: Yellow
    • Rebuild: Green
    • Remember: Blue
  • Cut the dates apart and arrange them on the timeline
  • Choose photos from the Rescue, Relief, and Rebuild Picture Galleries for each step along the way. Print the photos, and cut them out. (Hint: print out the thumbnail indexes for a full collection of photos that are a convenient size for this activity):
  • Arrange the photos on the timeline

Reports on what was done for flood victims


Rebuilding: A Blank Slate

Rebuilding Johnstown … Again and Again


Remembering the Lost and the Lessons Learned

How should we remember?

Note the Unknown Plot and monument dedicated at Grandview Cemetery in 1892

Memorial sites for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

Lessons learned: Why should we remember?

Managing Disasters Today: Hurricane Relief 2005


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