The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


May 25, 2014

Heaven-sent: Churches were city's saving grace

— All of Johnstown’s churches were either destroyed or damaged by the 1889 Johnstown Flood, but that did not stop the congregations from continuing to minister to the community while rebuilding the churches.

Congregations helped in a variety of ways, from assisting the American Red Cross to having Sunday school students raise money to help others.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was formed in November 1855 with the congregation completing the construction of a brick church at 335 Locust St., said Jack Green, St. Mark’s historian.

The church was destroyed when the flood struck May 31.

The parish lost 47 of its members who lived in the downtown, including its rector, the Rev. Alonzo Potter Diller, his wife and their two young children.

Helping hands

After the rubble was cleared from the site of the church, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, asked for permission to build one of her three shelters at the location.

The shelter opened July 27, 1889, and was in operation until April 1890.

The Red Cross dismantled the shelter and one of two outbuildings at the site. The third outbuilding was left standing at the request of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to be used as a temporary church, Green said.

The bell from the original church was installed in the temporary church.

Parishioners assisted the community to recover by helping Barton at the shelter.

The bishop also sent priests from Pittsburgh to minister to people staying at the shelter.

Diller had outreach programs for residents of communities as far as Ehrenfeld, according to Green. Priests who followed Diller continued those outreach programs to help the community to recover.

The temporary church, called the Ark, served the congregation until the present church was completed and commemorated on May 31, 1891 – the second anniversary of the flood – Green said.

Historic find

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