Very few local Civil War artifacts remain because the 1889 Johnstown Flood washed countless medals, guns, uniforms and diaries away.
So, if the Johnstown Area Heritage Association was ever going to put on a fitting display to commemorate the conflict that occurred less than three full decades before the disaster, it was going to need some help.
Enter the Senator John Heinz History Center.
On Friday, the Pittsburgh-based Smithsonian Institution, in conjunction with JAHA, opened a traveling exhibit called “The Civil War in Pennsylvania” inside the Heritage Discovery Center, located in the Cambria City section of town. The museum contributed displays about important western Pennsylvania figures from the war that lasted from 1861 to 1865. JAHA and the city’s Grand Army of the Republic chapter rounded out the exhibit with local artifacts and biographical sketches of residents, including W. Horace Rose, who was injured at the Battle of Piedmont before becoming the first mayor of a consolidated Johnstown.
“It’s wonderful for us because it’s an opportunity that we rarely have to really talk about the Civil War in Johnstown because we have so few artifacts and objects because of the flood, so it’s rare,” said Heritage Discovery Center curator Kaytlin Sumner. “For us to put together our own exhibit would be a little bit more of a stretch because we couldn’t put together something of this magnitude and have as many artifacts to display within it.”
JAHA members attended a special grand opening of the exhibition on Friday, presented by Peoples Natural Gas and supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
“I’m a Civil War buff. ... The opportunity to come down and see it before it really opens, I just thought that was a good opportunity,” said Lira Pridgen, a Johnstown resident.
Beginning today, the display will be open to the public through March 5. Entrance is included with a standard museum admission.
Visitors will get the chance to learn about Pittsburgh abolitionist Martin Delany, Erie’s Strong Vincent, who rallied Union troops during the fierce battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and others involved in the bloody conflict. There is also a display paying tribute to the 78 civilians, mostly young women, who died during an explosion at Allegheny Arsenal in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
“(The Civil War) didn’t take place in western Pennsylvania for the most part,” said JAHA marketing and communications director Shelley Johansson. “We don’t have battlefields here and so on. So, what’s kind of neat about this exhibit is that it shows a little bit about the Civil War from a more western Pennsylvania perspective.”