Johnstown Flood National Memorial


The Johnstown Flood National Memorial preserves the remains of the South Fork Dam. The visitor center contains a model of the dam as well as exhibits about the events leading up to the flood. The fact that the disaster might have been avoided is a lesson taught in many engineering classrooms today. As designed, the dam was quite strong, but improper repairs and poor maintenance compromised its structural integrity. In addition, the fishing club that owned the dam blocked the spillway with screens, to keep fish from escaping the reservoir. The screens became clogged with debris and prevented the spillway from performing its function.

Activity Details

Activity Type:Trips and Destinations
Discipline:Civil, Environmental
Topic(s):Structures
Grade:K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
Time:Full day

Fun Fact:(Not a fun fact this time.) On May 31, 1889, the privately owned South Fork Dam broke, spilling 20 million gallons of water in 45 seconds; the same volume that goes over the Niagara Falls in 36 minutes. The wave's average speed was 40 mph, and it was 35-40 feet high at its crest when it smashed into the town, killing 2,209 people within 10 minutes.