The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 25, 2014

Bumpy ride: Railroads reopened quickly, but restoration of roads took years

JOHNSTOWN — A Johnstown resident seeking to get around in 1889 had limited transportation options, and the flood swept away almost all of those choices.

As survivors searched for lost loved ones and sought shelter for themselves, their efforts were hindered in the aftermath of the devastating floodwaters that destroyed nearly every roadway in and around the city.

The streets and highways were dirt, brick or stone, all elements which quickly let go of their grip to join the homes, businesses and bodies being swept westward.

The dozens of municipally owned wooden and metal bridges crossing a host of small and large waterways were wiped out, said Richard Burkert, president and CEO of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

Long time coming back

“Johnstown lost most of its infrastructure,” Burkert said.

The flood hit 14 years before there was any state agency to oversee road construction, maintenance or reconstruction, said Anthony Scalia, of PennDOT’s District 9.

“The (Pennsylvania) Department of Highways actually was not formed until 1903,” Scalia said.

Replacement of the roadways, streets and bridges took years to restore in some cases, Burkert said.

Horse and buggy was a popular transportation mode for getting around the city, and two railroads were available to take passengers and goods in and out of the area.

Josh Yoder, of what is now CamTran, said the Johnstown Passenger Railway Co., had been around since 1882 and was a thriving enterprise when the flood swept through.

“It was a horse-drawn service, horse-drawn trolley cars, not track driven,” Yoder said.

As the city was rebuilding after the flood, the trolley company took the opportunity to modernize by stepping away from horses and installing a modern trolley system, he said.

The remnants of what was likely the city’s first public transportation system was purchased by Johnstown Steel Works and replaced the twisted and absent track. Electricity was added as the power supply.

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