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Johnstown, PA

Treaty of Fort Stanwix

At an historic meeting, an agreement was reached which paved the way for the founding of Johnstown, destined to become Cambria County's only city and the hub of its greatest population area. The meeting date was November 5, 1768. The principal bargainers were chiefs of the Iroquois, reigning Indian power in the East, and representatives of the Penn family's proprietary government in Pennsylvania. The pact made that day went down in history as the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. It opened up settlement for all of Pennsylvania south of the historic Kittanning Path, and thus induced settlers to enter the valleys of the Conemaugh and Stonycreek. It was five months before land warrants could be issued under the Fort Stanwix Treaty. But on the very day that the treaty became effective, April 3, 1769, a warrant was taken out for 249 acres that stretched between the Conemaugh and Stonycreek Rivers. This tract was Johnstown's birthplace.

Early Traders and Pioneer Settlers

Prior to the Fort Stanwix pact, journeying pioneers were the only white men to traverse the valley wilderness. Among them were some of early Pennsylvania's most famous explorers -- Col. John Armstrong, who later defeated the Indians at their Kittanning stronghold, George Croghan, John Davenport, James LeTort, Christian Frederick Post and Conrad Weiser. As early as 1731 LeTort reported to Governor Patrick Gordon that he found 45 Indian families living on "Connumach Creek", also referred to in the colonial era as "Cough-naugh-maugh", "Connumah", "Ko-ne-ma", or "Gunamonki", to name a few of the derivatives. Other early traders and explorers stopped off at Kickenapaulin's, a name applied to an individual as well as to his Indian settlement. Early maps place Kickenapaulin's at the present site of Quemahoning Dam in Somerset County. It is possible that Kickenapaulin also may have settled for a time near Johnstown as his tribe moved westward. Whether Johnstown proper was once the site of a permanent Indian village is disputed among historians and researchers. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the Delawares and Shawnees (or Shawanese) frequently passed through and near the area. An old Indian trail, the Conemaugh Path, extended from Bedford to Johnstown and thence through the Conemaugh Gap westward to the Ohio Country. So far as the records show, the first white settlers were Solomon and Samuel Adams and their sister Rachel Adams. Coming from Bedford in the early 1770s, they pioneered in the Stonycreek valley and cleared the first farmland in what is now Johnstown. Samuel and Rachel were killed by Indians as they fled toward Bedford about 1772. Their memory was perpetuated with the naming of Solomon Run, Sam's Run and Rachel Hill. Among other early settlers was John Horner, the patriarch of the Stonycreek, who once owned most of the land that now includes the 7th and 17th Wards. Abraham Hildebrand erected a grist mill on the Little Conemaugh in 1797 and Peter Gouchnour came to the area in 1798. Dale Borough built a grist mill on Solomon Run in 1799. John Hinckston, who killed the last known Indian in the Johnstown area, lived along Hinckston Run before 1800.

The First Landowners

Regardless of whether the Indians had a permanent settlement in Johnstown, it was still considered "Indian Country" in 1769 when Charles Campbell of Westmoreland County became the first owner of the land on which the town was founded. The Campbell tract generally included that land which now makes up the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Wards. Its boundaries described an irregular triangle, with its apex just downstream from the point where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh Rivers meet. All the downtown area below the Haynes Street Bridge was included. On April 7, 1769, four days after the Campbell application, a second warrant was taken out. This application made James Dougherty owner of the Cambria City section. Original warrants for other tracts that now make up the city went to Benedict Dorsey in 1776 (Woodvale), Peter Snyder in 1776 (Hornerstown), Martin Riley in 1787 (Osborne Section), Thomas Afflick in 1788 (Minersville), Jacob Stutzman and Robert Adams in 1795 (Kernville) and James Flack in 1797 (old Conemaugh Borough). These men were not necessarily settlers or developers, but they were the first landowners. Most tracts changed hands several times before actual development was begun.

Plots and Plans for the First Settlement

It was an Amish farmer, Joseph Schantz, who plotted and planned the first permanent settlement. Schantz arrived in Philadelphia from Switzerland in 1769 and set his sights westward. During his life-time he used the surname "Schantz" (Johns) on most of his land deeds and "Jantzin" (Johnson) in his family Bible records. The original Campbell tract became the site of the village, but the land had several owners before it came into the hands of Joseph Johns. Campbell sold the land to James Wilkins in 1780. The tract then went to John Johnston in 1781, to James McLanahan in 1782 and then to Joseph Johns in 1793. Johns paid McLanahan 435 pounds, equivalent to $12,150 dollars, or $8.50 per acre. In 1794, about one year after Johns bought the Campbell tract from McLanahan, he reached the site of his new purchase. Joseph built a log cabin at the present intersection of Vine and Levergood Streets and then began to clear land for farming. Within the next six years he cultivated or cleared about 30 acres. Anticipating the creation of a new county (Cambria County in 1804), Joseph Johns hoped that his land would be chosen as the county seat. With this in mind, he laid out the first village lots and streets in 1800. He called his settlement "Conemaugh Old Town".

More Settlement Owners

On leaving his settlement in 1807, Joseph Johns sold the town to William Hartley and Dr. John Anderson for $5,000 dollars. They kept it three years and sold out to John Holliday of the Juniata Valley. Holliday built an iron forge on the banks of the Stonycreek, but abandoned the project when a flood destroyed his equipment. Holliday sold his holdings in Conemaugh Old Town to Peter Levergood for $8,000 dollars in 1811. Two years later Levergood sold out to George Brenizer and Thomas Burell for $12,583 dollars. However, Levergood eventually regained the property and became the town's most successful developer. In 1818, when Brenizer and Burrell could not make the payments agreed upon, Levergood bought the property back at sheriff sale for $6.18. Levergood kept the property in his possession until his death in 1860. When he died he left a dollar value of $50,000 in gold in a Johnstown bank.

Progressive and Prosperous Community

In addition, three unincorporated villages had sprung up -- Moxham, Morrellville and Walnut Grove. Three more, Kernville, Sharpsburg and Hornerstown, already had been absorbed by Johnstown. Kernville became the 5th and 6th Wards. Hornerstown and Sharpsburg made up the 7th Ward. Residents of Coopersdale Borough also had voted to join in the consolidation, but they were unable to do so because Coopersdale was not contiguous to Johnstown. Morrellville separated Johnstown and Coopersdale and since Morrellville was not then a borough, it did not vote on the consolidation issue. About the time the city received its charter in 1889, the village of Moxham was annexed to the 7th Ward. Two years later, by court decree, it became the 17th Ward. Meantime, in 1890, the village of Morrellville received its borough charter. It retained its municipal identity until 1897 when it was annexed to the city as the 18th, 19th and 20th Wards. The annexation of Morrellville removed the obstacle that had prevented Coopersdale from joining the city. Coopersdale then became the 21st Ward in 1898. With the addition of Coopersdale, the present day boundaries of Johnstown were virtually established. Most notable among the later day annexations was Roxbury Borough, which became part of the 8th Ward, and Walnut Grove, which became part of the 17th Ward.

Between 1852 and the important year of 1889, Johnstown attracted new industries and businesses and acquired the characteristics of a progressive and prosperous community. The town gained another railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio. Horse-drawn street cars, free mail service, electric lights, natural gas, a water system, telephone service and banking houses were some of the signs of additional advancement. Then on May 31, 1889, Johnstown and its neighboring boroughs experienced their darkest day. On that date the South Fork Dam gave way and the great flood that roared through the valley became known to the world as the Johnstown Flood. The raging flood tide left over 2,200 dead in its path, and it left valley communities crushed and maimed almost beyond recognition. It was one of the worst peace-time tragedies of all time.

The Canal meets the Railroad

Johnstown's corporate history dates from January 12, 1831, when the name Conemaugh Old Town was abandoned and the community was chartered as Conemaugh Borough. George Kern was elected the first burgess. Three years later another Act of Assembly changed the name to Johnstown Borough in honor of the founder, Joseph Johns. The incorporation came at a time when Johnstown was enjoying its first prominence. The building of the Pennsylvania Canal System had made Johnstown one of the four most important towns on the cross-state route, and it began to benefit from the trade and commerce of the day. The canal system extended from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. However, over the mountains between Johnstown and Hollidaysburg the water route was not feasible and the stretch was traversed by the Allegheny Portage Railroad. It was at the canal basin in Johnstown, near Railroad and Clinton Streets, that the canal and railroad met. It was here that boats and passengers transferred from water to rail, when going east, and from rail to water, when moving west. This made Johnstown the head of navigation for the canal's western division. Canal transportation between Johnstown and Pittsburgh began in 1831. In 1834 the Allegheny Portage Railroad was completed and this final link opened the entire state-wide route. For the next 20 years Johnstown was a boat and rail center that gradually attracted new people, new wealth and new enterprise. By 1850 the population had reached 1,260.

Grandview Cemetery 1885

Grandview Cemetery is operated by the Citizens' Cemetery Association, founded in 1885, by prominent citizens in an effort to establish a cemetery for Johnstown's rapidly growing population. The first interment was that of Lucretia Hammond of Kernville on April 30, 1887. The cemetery initially was known as Grand View Cemetery. The trustees selected the name to reflect the "grand view" of the city. One-hundred acres on Yoder Hill west of the city was purchased from the Cambria Iron Company. The company had used the site as pasture and farmland for horses and mules employed in its mills and mines. In the late 1880s, a winding carriage road over one-mile long was constructed up Yoder Hill with two imposing stone arch memorial entrances. Near the upper arch an administration building and maintenance garage were erected in 1897. Soon afterward it was found that an entrance to the cemetery from the Westmont side would be necessary. In 1904 this entrance was made at Bucknell Ave., along with the building of a stone fence extending along Millcreek Road, a distance of 3,520 feet, for the protection of the cemetery grounds. In 1991 this wall was extended an additional 2,530 feet along Millcreek Road to Menoher Boulevard. Its design, of cut stone columns connected by black aluminum rods along the winding shape of the road creates an artistic looking boundary for this section of the cemetery. In the 1940s the old roadway was abandoned with the construction of Menoher Boulevard or the "Easy Grade Highway" as it is better known. A new, modern administration building and maintenance garage replaced the old structures in 1989. Most of the cemetery's historical significance comes from the Johnstown Flood of 1889. Many of the Flood's 2,209 victims are buried there. A section called the "Unknown Plot" contains the bodies of 777 flood victims who could not be identified. The state Flood Commission purchased the plot for burying the unidentified victims. The commission bought markers for each grave and a monument that cost $6,500. This monument, with its immediate surroundings, forms probably the most striking feature of the cemetery. It was dedicated May 31, 1892, in the presence of about 10,000 people, among them the Governor of the State and many prominent men from all over the Commonwealth. During the Johnstown Flood Centennial of 1989, 700,000 people from all over the state, nation and world visited the Johnstown Flood Memorial near St. Michael, the Johnstown Flood Museum in downtown Johnstown featuring the Academy-Award-winning film about the flood by Charles Guggenheim, and the Unknown Plot at Grandview Cemetery. The cemetery contains the grave of Lt. Col. Boyd "Buzz" Wagner, the first American air ace of World War II. Also buried in Grandview is John G. McCrory, founder of the McCrory 5-and-10 store chain. The number of persons at Grandview as of March 31, 1992 was 57,006. In 1977, three mausoleums were added to the cemetery. To this day, the names of all persons interred in Grandview are hand written in the Chronological Book of Interment. Containing 47 burial sections and more than 235 acres, the cemetery is one of the largest in Pennsylvania.


Copyright Johnstown Flood National Memorial Online - National Park Service - South Fork, Pennsylvania - All Rights Reserved.
Copyright Johnstown Pennsylvania Information Source Online - Johnstown, Pennsylvania - All Rights Reserved.

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Released 12.16.1999
Revised 01.02.2007 09:30 PDT Version 3.3.
Copyright 1997 - 2007 By JFRG. All Rights Reserved.