About This Place
Johnstown is a city in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, United States, 41 miles (66 km) west-southwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania and 70 miles (110 km) east of Pittsburgh. The population was 20,978 at the 2010 census. It is the principal city of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Cambria County. As of 2008, the Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 144,319 which makes it one of the top 10 in the state.
Johnstown, settled in 1770, is perhaps most famous for its three major floods. The "Great Flood" of May 31, 1889 occurred after the South Fork Dam collapsed 14.1 miles (23 km) upstream from the city during heavy rains. At least 2,209 people died as a result of the flood and subsequent fire that raged through the debris. Other major floods occurred in 1936 and 1977. Despite a pledge by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to make the city flood free, and subsequent work to do so, another major flood occurred in 1977. The 1977 flood - in what was to have been a "flood free" city - may have contributed to Johnstown's subsequent population decline and inability to attract new residents and businesses.
Johnstown was formally organized as a town in 1800 by the Swiss German immigrant Joseph Johns (né Josef Schantz). The settlement was initially known as Schantzstadt, but was soon anglicized to Johnstown. From 1834 to 1854, the city was a port and key transfer point along the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal. Johnstown was at the head of the canal's western branch, with canal boats having been transported over the mountains via the Allegheny Portage Railroad and refloated here, to continue the trip by water to Pittsburgh and the Ohio Valley. Perhaps the most famous passenger via the canal to visit Johnstown briefly was Charles Dickens in 1842. By 1854, canal transport became redundant with the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which now spanned the state. With the coming of the railroads, the city’s growth did not miss a beat; in fact, the tempo was stepped up. Johnstown became a stop on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad and was connected with the Baltimore & Ohio. The railroads provided large-scale development of the region’s mineral wealth.