Johnstown Flood National Memorial


May 31, 1889 was the infamous day when a dam broke sending a 40-foot wall of water downstream, leveling multiple towns and killing more than 2,200 people.  The earthen South Fork Dam was designed for a lower lake level, was poorly maintained since 1853, and was completely ignored by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club (with wealthy members such as Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon).  Clara Barton’s newly formed American Red Cross sent a staff of 50 doctors and nurses to assist with recovery efforts, which took years.


Museum, film, South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Historic District, Grandview Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the National Park Service (NPS) museum at the dam site in South Fork, Pennsylvania.  The 35-minute film shown there is not appropriate for young children.  A driving tour leads around the dry lakebed to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Historic District.  Much of the Little Conemaugh River downstream is not accessible by roads, but be sure to drive downstream to Johnstown to visit the Grandview Cemetery and, if you have time, the Johnstown Flood Museum (admission fee). Every year since 1989 on the anniversary, the NPS lights 2,209 luminaria in memoriam.

Best Trail

There is a trail that follows a portion of the Little Conemaugh River and leads to Staple Bend Tunnel, part of Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A memorial to the unidentified victims of the May 31, 1889 flood stands in Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Peak Season




None, except at the unaffiliated Johnstown Flood Museum in Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some of the smaller roads to the Little Conemaugh River may not be.


Prince Gallitzin State Park offers a campground with showers 20 miles northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Related Sites

Flight 93 National Memorial (Pennsylvania)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – Where did the miles of barbwire that wrapped around the flood debris originate?

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