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Road Trip Guide: Johnstown Flood Museum

This relief map in the Johnstown Flood Museum illustrates the path of the 1889 flood down the Conemaugh Valley. Light and sound effects illustrate the flood’s timeline, from the time the rains began to threaten the dam until the waters began to subside.
This relief map in the Johnstown Flood Museum illustrates the path of the 1889 flood down the Conemaugh Valley. Light and sound effects illustrate the flood’s timeline, from the time the rains began to threaten the dam until the waters began to subside. Photo provided

The Johnstown Flood Museum tells the story of May 31, 1889, when the South Fork Dam burst, sending a wall of water rolling into the city. More than 2,200 people died in an event that launched the American Red Cross.

The 125th Johnstown Flood anniversary commemoration, www.johnstown125.com, will open a summer filled with diverse events at sites that reflect the region’s mix of history, culture and recreation.

“We’re lucky here because we have a varied menu of opportunities,” said Lisa Rager, executive director of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.visitjohnstownpa.com. “The Johnstown area works as a great mini-vacation destination.”

The Johnstown Flood Museum, www.jaha.org/floodmuseum, 304 Washington St., features relics from the event along with interactive displays and an Academy Award-winning documentary film.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial ( www.nps.gov/jofl), off U.S. Route 219 in St. Michael, is set at the site of the failed dam and Lake Conemaugh, where the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Clubhouse still stands.

“People ask me which they should go to, the flood museum or the park site,” said Shelley Johansson, spokeswoman for the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, which operates the flood museum and other sites. “The answer is, go to both.”

The 125th anniversary of the 1889 flood, May 30-June 1, will feature luminaries at the national memorial, a half marathon to follow the path of the flood and a Community Heritage Day festival at Peoples Natural Gas Park in downtown Johnstown.

At night, the great Stone Bridge, an 1889 flood icon that was recently resurfaced, will be lit.

Step back in time ...

Other historical spots in the city include:

•  The Heritage Discovery Center and Heritage Children’s Museum spotlight the city’s coal-mining and steel-making past, celebrating “how our innovation and industrial might fueled America’s westward expansion,” Rager said.



•  The Inclined Plane,

www.inclinedplane.org

; at 35 degrees, the steepest vehicular incline in the world.



•  Grandview Cemetery,

www.grandviewjohnstownpa.com

; burial place of the flood’s “Unknown Dead” and numerous dignitaries.



•  Wagner-Ritter House, www.jaha.org, tells the story of working-class families during the heyday of the steel mills.



•  Bottleworks Ethnic Arts Center,

www.bottleworks.org

; a community visual arts venue.



While you’re there …

• 

May 31-June 1:

PolkaFest: music, dancing and ethnic food in the Cambria City neighborhood.



• 

June 26-29:

Thunder in the Valley, the biggest motorcycle rally in the northeast and a showcase of chrome and leather; food, live bands, demonstrations, vendors and thousands of bikes;

www.visitjohnstownpa.com

.



• 

Aug. 1-3:

AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival; 2014 lineup features Boz Scaggs, Little Feat co-founder and keyboardist Billy Payne, and others;

www.floodcitymusic.com

.



• 

Aug. 4-11:

All American Amateur Baseball Association National Tournament; college-age players from Baltimore, New Orleans, New York and elsewhere; Point Stadium and other ballparks;

www.aaabatournament.com

.



• 

Aug. 29-31:

Cambria City Ethnic Festival; live bands, ethnic foods, historic churches;

cambriacityethnicfestival.webs.com

.



• 

All summer:

Whitewater rafting; Coal Tubin’ on the Stonycreek River;

www.coaltubin.com

.



— Chip Minemyer

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