Museum-Johnstown Flood

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The Johnstown Flood (locally, the Great Flood of 1889) occurred on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam, located on the south fork of the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles (23 km) upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, releasing 14.55 million cubic meters of water.With a volumetric flow rate that temporarily equaled the average flow rate of the Mississippi River, the flood killed more than 2,200 people and accounted for $17 million of damage (about $484 million in 2019 dollars..... 

In the years following the disaster, some people blamed the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club for their modifications to the dam and failure to maintain it properly. The club had bought and redesigned the dam to turn the area into a vacation retreat in the mountains. They were accused of failing to maintain the dam properly, so that it was unable to contain the additional water of the unusually heavy rainfall.

The club was successfully defended by the firm of Knox and Reed (later Reed Smith LLP), whose partners Philander Knox and James Hay Reed were both Club members. The Club was never held legally responsible for the disaster. Knox and Reed successfully argued that the dam's failure was a natural disaster which was an Act of God, and no legal compensation was paid to the survivors of the flood. The perceived injustice aided the acceptance, in later cases, of "strict, joint, and several liability," so that even a "non-negligent defendant could be held liable for damage caused by the unnatural use of land."

Nonetheless, individual members of the club, millionaires in their day, contributed to the recovery. Along with about half of the club members, co-founder Henry Clay Frick donated thousands of dollars to the relief effort in Johnstown. After the flood, Andrew Carnegie, then known as an industrialist and philanthropist, built the town a new library. (Wikipedia)

Photographs by W. S. Bell, Pittsburgh

(6 x 8 inch albumen prints on 10 x 11 1/2 inch mounts. 
All but one Identified in pencil on the verso)


 (Pasted on the back of one of the mounts)


Backwater in Kernville


Debris at bridge


Napoleon St. Kernville


Soap works


The Cambria Iron Company of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was a major
19th-century industrial producer of iron and steel.
Founded in 1852, it had the nation's largest steel foundry in the 1870s,
 and was renamed the Cambria Steel Company in 1898. (Wikipedia)


 Cambria Steel Company


Johnstown from Prospect Hill
one month after the flood


Locomotive at Conemaugh-PRR.
Penn Railroad locomotive in mud



Cal Campbells residence high water mark.
Main St. H3 rescued


Furniture warehouse Clinton St.


Getting ready for supper Centre of the town


Opera House

Popular feeling ran high, as is reflected in Isaac Reed's poem ( a local poet):

Many thousand human lives-

Butchered husbands, slaughtered wives

Mangled daughters, bleeding sons,

Hosts of martyred little ones,

(Worse than Herod's awful crime)

Sent to heaven before their time;

Lovers burnt and sweethearts drowned,

Darlings lost but never found!

All the horrors that hell could wish,

Such was the price that was paid for— fish!


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