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May 25, 2014

Terrible toll visible at hillside cemetery: 1,222 victims of flood buried there

— Grandview Cemetery serves as the final resting place for former war heroes, a drugstore chain founder and a list of once-powerful politicians.

But its perhaps best known for a plot honoring hundreds of nameless men and women – a 777- headstone memorial to the unidentified victims of Johnstown’s 1889 flood.

But while the 230-acre Millcreek Road cemetery was forever changed by the great flood, its roots pre-date the disaster, those who have studied the Millcreek Road property’s history say.

What is now Grandview Cemetery was part of a swathe of hilltop farmland in the early 1860s. Like much of the land around it, the site was Cambria Iron Co. property, cemetery officials said.

A growing need

By the 1880s, “it became apparent that the capacity of (existing cemetery) land was nearly exhausted,” said George Kondor, president of the Citizens Cemetery Association, which established and has operated Grandview since its inception in 1885.

Union Cemetery, Johnstown’s original community cemetery near where Cambria County War Memorial Arena now stands, had been abandoned by then, leaving only Sandyvale in its place, according to Richard Burkert, president and CEO of Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

“In those days, Johnstown’s library, the hospital, just about everything, was established by the ironworks,” he added. “Grandview was unusual, in that you had a group of 50 prominent Johnstowners who identified this need and saw it through. It was a community effort.”

To lay out the site, those 50 incorporators ended up hiring Philadelphia architect Charles R. Miller, who Burkert described as one of the pre-eminent landscape designers of his day.

Just a decade earlier, Miller designed Philadelphia’s Centennial Grounds for the massive celebration of America’s independence, records show. He was tasked with designing what would eventually become one of the state’s largest cemeteries, Burkert said.

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