The Johnstown Area Heritage Association and its partners are planning a season full of events to mark the 125th anniversary of the 1889 Pennsylvania flood.
It’s being billed as the area’s largest commemoration of the event since flood centennial celebrations lured an estimated 700,000 people to the area in 1989.
Area leaders hope to draw national attention to the Flood City once again, with events looking back at one of the nation’s greatest natural disasters while showcasing the heritage tourism industry born from it, heritage association President Richard Burkert said.
“The goals of the 125th anniversary commemoration are to create pride in our community and its heritage and promote (tourism) to the Johnstown area, our heritage attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities,” Burkert said during a press conference at the Johnstown Flood Museum on Monday. “We’re hoping to get our story out there.”
JAHA has already launched www.Johnstown125.com., a website to market a growing list of events already scheduled from March through June.
Organized by JAHA and dozens of partners including the National Park Service, events will include special Johnstown Symphony Orchestra concerts in May; a daylong June 1 “Community Day” heritage festival featuring music, vendors and carriage rides at Peoples Natural Gas Park; and historic programs May 22 featuring descendants of flood survivors and victims.
Recalling the 1989 centennial celebration, organizers hope to partner with churches in South Fork, Mineral Point, East Conemaugh, Woodvale and Johnstown to ring their bells on the afternoon of the flood’s 125th anniversary at the time a wave of floodwaters tore through their neighborhoods, Burkert said.
And that night, volunteers will illuminate the Johnstown Flood National Memorial dam site with candlelit paper lanterns. In a solemn ceremony, they’ll read the names of many of the 2,209 men, women and children killed by the flood and its wake after the South Fork Dam broke May 31, 1889.
Guided tours will be offered of the currently-under-renovation South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club during the flood’s anniversary weekend, National Park Service western Pennsylvania Superintendent Jeff Reinbold said, noting the cottage will be repainted this spring to match its late 1800s exterior.
Greater Johnstown Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Lisa Rager said the spring and summer events will give local officials a chance to show the strides the region has made in heritage tourism and outdoor offerings over the past 25 years.
“This anniversary is a perfect opportunity for us to recognize the progress we’ve made,” said Rager, an intern during the late 1980s centennial planning effort. Then, the area was still laying a foundation to become a heritage tourism draw, she said. It’s a big reason tourists spend $300 million annually in the region today.
Many events, including the daylong “Community Heritage Day” at Peoples Natural Gas Park, will showcase Johnstown points of pride, including the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center and restored Inclined Plane Visitors Center, Rager said.
For example, runners will be able to trace the 1889 disaster path during a June 1 half-marathon and 5K on the Path of the Flood Trail from St. Michael to Johnstown, Rager said. A June 5 river sojourn is being scheduled to mark how far the area’s waterways have come in recent years. Organizers will incorporate the city’s major festivals such as Thunder in the Valley and the Flood City Music Festival into the yearlong commemoration, Burkert said.
Planners have spent years preparing for the 125th anniversary, he added.
Events will be added in the months ahead and community organizations are being encouraged to add their own 125th commemoration activities, Burkert said.
Those interested can contact JAHA’s Shelley Johansson at sjohansson(at)jaha.org about adding an event to JAHA’s website event calender.
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