The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 9, 2006

Artifacts, room fond in South Fork


ST. MICHAEL — An underground room discovered at the 1889 South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club House is generating a lot of speculation.

The odd-shaped room is 5 foot high, measures 7 feet at its widest and narrows to 5 1/2 feet at one end.

Sitting against the foundation of the club, the recently discovered room is at the eastern end of the 13,000-square-foot, 42 room structure, which stood on the banks of what was Lake Conemaugh, a summer destination for industrial titans in the 1800s.

“It’s outside the building and below ground level,” said Susanne Haney, project director with Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s archeological services. “There had been an addition to the structure, so we know it’s definitely not part of the original building, but we don’t know when it was built.”

Because of dampness at the site, the room probably was not a root cellar, Haney said.

While there is no indication when the digging occurred, a wall of Portland cement, dating to the early 20th century, adds to speculation that the room was developed after 1889.

An archeological survey, conducted at a cost of $45,000 and covered by a federal Save America’s Treasurers grant, is needed before a drainage system to reduce moisture is installed around the building’s foundation.

The clubhouse, two cottages and a clubhouse annex were recently handed over to the National Park Service by the nonprofit 1889 South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.

The park service is looking at options for future use of the buildings. A document detailing public comment is being developed.

Eventually, the park service hopes to find private parties to restore and use the building, said Keith Newlin, superintendent of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

Discovery of the underground room has prolonged the dig, which started in late May, and has left Haney and her three-person team wondering about the room’s date and its purpose.

Official documents about the property were destroyed after Lake Conemaugh failed in 1889 and flooded Johnstown. But even photographs of the interior of the structure cannot be found, Newlin said.

“We don’t know a lot about that club,” Newlin said. “It was sort of a closed club and we have only one interior photo and that is of the Suydam Cottage.”

Suydam is located at the rear of what was club property and is privately owned.

Other artifacts found in the dig include medicine bottles dating to the late 1870s, numerous marbles, a mussel shell button and even a soda bottle with an 1858 date and the words “South Fork.”

“They’re really finding all kinds of good stuff,” Newlin said.

Workers expect to complete the dig by the end of the month.