Heritage Discovery Center
Settled in the Cambria section of Johnstown, 85 percent of which had been populated by emigrants during the 1880s, and managed by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, the Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center is a multiple-attraction venue housed in a 1907 building basically used by the city’s Germania Brewery Company.
One of many brick constructions encircling an inner courtyard, it had been sold to Louis Zang for $38,000 in 1919 when a prescription had obviated its purpose but was almost as quickly resold to the Ferguson Packing Company for a single dollar. The Morris Electric Supply Company became yet a fourth owner, in 1946.
Because of its extensive industrial history, the Johnstown Area Heritage Association obtained it in 1993, restoring it and opening it as the multi-faceted museum it is today.
A 12-foot sculpture, built-in 1989 by Charles Zilch, Dennis Waitz, Larry Ramach, and Robert Scarsella, depicts the conflicts and celebrations of local steelworkers, entailing floods, recessions, and plant closings, thus reflecting the character traits expressed by its very title, “Man of Steel.” One of the museum’s principal presentations, as befits its Cambria section location, is “America: Through Immigrant Eyes,” which begins with immigrants riding the very rails they themselves would shortly make at the Cambria Steel Company in Johnstown.
Johnstown Flood National Memorial
Situated outside of the city off of Route 219, the Johnstown National Memorial marks the origin of the cataclysmic, 1889 flood.
The valley below its Visitors Center once cradled dramatic, two-mile Lake Conemaugh, held by the weakening rock dam, and the elite South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, remnants of which remain today.
Lush, green hills, a few scattered houses, and railroad tracks now meet the visitor’s eyes. Peace fills the air. The sweet aromas of spring permeate the nostrils in April and May. Engaged in this peaceful, pastoral setting, it is hard to imagine what transpired here more than a century ago, but the fearful, National Park Service-produced “Black Friday” film, conveying the turmoil, loss, pain, and death, and shown inside the Visitors Center, will snap you back to the area’s pivotal day in an instant. It is complemented by maps and tactical demonstrations of the flood and its debris-strewn aftermath.
The Unger House, built in the mid-1880s by South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club manager Elias J. Unger, is settled across from the Visitors Center. After lying stranded for a decade, it was attached to the memorial in 1981 and returned to its original, 1889 appearance, but is today only used for official purposes and is therefore public-inaccessible.
The 1889 clubhouse is another building preserved from the resort. Donated by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Historical Preservation Society, the three-floor, 47-room building served as the principal member lodge, and today sports its unique, wood-grained floors, ceramic tiled fireplace, and wallpaper.
Inextricably tied to the tri-flood history which shaped it, Johnstown offers several other event-related sights.
The Path of the Flood Trail, for instance, is both a walking and bicycling path which retraces the Great Flood of 1889 from Ehrenfeld Borough Park to the Johnstown Flood Museum, driven by means of interpretive signs, while a self-guided walking tour of the Johnstown National Historic District contains more than 15 sites. Commemorative plaques placed on the outer corner of the Johnstown City Hall at Main and Market streets mark each of the three floods’ highest water levels, recorded as 21 feet in 1889, 17 feet in 1936, and 8.6 feet in 1977. The Monument of Tranquillity, located at Grandview Cemetery on Millcreek Road, overlooks the 777 graves of the unknown, 1889 flood victims collectively entitled the “Plot of the Unknown.”