New photographs of ’77 Johnstown flood

Local News

Local historians have uncovered new photographs of the 1977 Johnstown flood.

After the 1936 flood, the second one to hit the city of Johnstown, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered engineers to rebuild the river walls.

The city thought it was flood free.

“What was really the problem in 1977 was the small streams that people didn’t even know their names. They were a couple of inches deep in July but had swollen to 20 feet deep and became killers,” said JAHA President and CEO, Richard Burkert.

A photographer from Pittsburgh captured the destruction. George Cooler rushed to Johnstown to help his parents. He brought supplies and three rolls of film.

The curator of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association was so excited to see the photos for the first time.

“The prints were all developed after the ’77 flood and they are the original prints that are still in great condition,” Kaytlin Sumner said.

It’s a small, but powerful collection of photos. Decades after the flood uprooted his family’s life he decided it was time to donate the pieces of history.

“We selected photos that could give a nice timeline of events to show highlights of different areas in the West End of Johnstown,” said Sumner.

The new exhibit is on display at the Discovery Center. It documents the first days after the flood, showing how the National Guard and other relief organizations helped the victims.

The storm that caused the devastation sat over Johnstown for ten hours, dumping nearly twelve inches of rain.

“The engineers determined the flood would have been eleven feet higher in this city without those channels, so they did work,” said Burkert.

The photo exhibit will remain on display for a year.  In the meantime, renovations are being planned for the museum that will include a new wing dedicated to telling the story of the ’77 Flood.

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