The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 29, 2013

Partners offering industrial history tour

Tom Lavis

JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Area Heritage Association and the National Park Service are partnering to offer a first-ever Industrial Heritage Bus Tour on  July 13.

Hosted by costumed interpreters, the day-long bus tour will give visitors a more complete understanding of the area’s industrial history from the early 19th century through the 1940s.

Shelley Johansson, director of communications and marketing for Johnstown Area Heritage Association, said full-day interpretive tours of sites associated with the 1889 Flood have been so successful that the time has come to focus on the area’s industrial history.

“There are a lot of fascinating stories associated with the area’s industrial importance and the role it played in developing America,” Johansson said. “Johnstown was the Silicon Valley of the steel industry. The industry’s brightest minds were sent to Johnstown to learn how to make steel.”

Costumed interpreters will be a part of a full-day tour, which includes National Park Service sites, the Lower Cambria Blacksmith Shop in Johnstown, and other significant sites.

Depending on the amount of interest, organizers are working to fill one bus before reserving any more.

Cost is $15, plus the cost of lunch. Space is limited, so Johansson encourages anyone interested in taking the tour to make reservations by calling 539-1889. Lunch will be available at Cresson Springs Family Restaurant.

Participants will begin the tour by checking in at the Heritage Discovery Center gift shop, located at 201 Sixth Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

“We will start the tour by having people view the Discovery Center’s ‘Mystery of Steel’ film and participants will receive a brief introduction from tour facilitators,” Johansson said.

The film explains Johnstown’s importance in the early steel industry, including the development of the Kelly converter and Bessemer steel production process.

“It also features modern footage of Johnstown’s steel mills, shot by Academy Award-winning director Charles Guggenheim just a few weeks before the mills were closed.”

The tour proceeds to the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Gallitzin.

National Park Service Ranger Gregory Zaborowski will give a tour of ALPO and will give a program which will discuss the building of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal System and the Allegheny Portage Railroad. The tour will include costumed interpreters demonstrating 1830’s log and stone cutting.

“The history of this area is largely formed by our industrial heritage and you can’t explore or study history without addressing how industry has shaped and defined this region,” said Megan O’Malley, chief of interpretation for the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. “This is why a tour like this, that links industrial heritage sites, is so important.”

Prior to lunch, tourists will travel to the Gallitzin Tunnels, where they will be met by a costumed interpreter who will give an interpretive presentation about the Nazi sabotage plot of the Pennsylvania Railroad, based on the research and writing of Dennis McIlnay.

Retired National Park Service Ranger Mary Ann Davis will give a presentation as seen through the eyes Mrs. Andrew Carnegie’s neighbor.

The presentation will discuss the Carnegies and the Cresson Springs Resort.

Davis will be dressed in the garb of a woman living in the late 1880s.

“I plan to offer an entertaining and educational insight into the lives of the Carnegies,” Davis said. “Andrew Carnegie was an upstart before he became a competitor to Cambria Iron Works.”

The bus will return to Johnstown to visit the former Cambria Iron Co. Blacksmith Shop.

“This is rare opportunity to get inside a building that normally is not open to the public,” Johansson said.

Richard Burkert, JAHA president, will give the presentation.

The Blacksmith Shop, which was built in 1865, is part of the Cambria Iron & Steel National Historic Landmark, and is one of the nation’s oldest industrial buildings.

The octagonal structure, built circa 1864, has been stabilized with an ultimate goal of reopening the building as a fully functioning blacksmith shop.

Bethlehem closed the shop in 1992 and simply turned out the lights. Everything from steam hammers to hand tools was left behind.

Following the blacksmith shop tour, the group will return to the Heritage Discovery Center.

If you go

What: Industrial Heritage Bus Tour.

Where: Heritage Discover Center, 201 Sixth Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

When: July 13.

Cost: $15 a person.

Reservations: Call 539-1889.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.