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Title:
Johnstown weekly Democrat. : (Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa.) 1889-1916
Alternative Titles:
  • Democrat
  • Johnstown Democrat
  • Weekly Democrat
Place of publication:
Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa.
Geographic coverage:
  • Johnstown, Cambria, Pennsylvania  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
Publisher:
L.D. Woodruff
Dates of publication:
1889-1916
Description:
  • Began in 1889?
  • Ceased in 1916.
Frequency:
Weekly
Language:
  • English
Notes:
  • Description based on: Vol. 27, no. 1 (Mar. 15, 1889).
  • Issued also in daily editions called: Johnstown daily Democrat <1888>-Sept. 13, 1894; and: Johnstown Democrat (Johnstown, Pa. : Daily), Sept. 14, 1894-Sept. 6. 1952.
LCCN:
sn 86083274
OCLC:
14262885
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Johnstown weekly Democrat. July 5, 1889, Image 1

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Johnstown Weekly Democrat

            Johnstown, the largest community in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, was regularly flooded by its waterways--the Stonycreek River and the Little Conemaugh meet at Johnstown, forming the Conemaugh River, but it is defined in the American memory by the Great Flood of 1889. Reports of the weakening South Fork Dam, 14 miles upstream from the town, during heavy rains on May 31, 1889, were not taken seriously, though disaster followed so quickly that evacuation may have been impossible anyway. In only ten minutes, some 20 million gallons of water poured down the mountain gorge into Johnstown. Fires followed in the towering mounds of debris. At least 2,209 people died, in a population of about 30,000. Four square miles of the downtown were destroyed, along with 1,600 homes. Property loss reached $17 million.  

            Johnstown, settled in 1770, was organized as a town in 1800 by a Swiss-German immigrant named Josef Schantz.  He changed his name to Joseph Johns, and Schantzstadt became Johnstown. The city was a vital port on the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal with thriving iron,coal,and steel industries. Its Cambria Iron Company was the leading steel producer in the United States in the second half of the 19th century.

            Lucian Dallas Woodruff (1845-1911) came to Johnstown from Perry County in 1865 to work with his father, Henry Durant Woodruff (1825-1890), on the Johnstown Democrat, a newspaper founded in March 1863 by James F. Campbell, Sr.  When the elder Woodruff retired in 1876, L.D. was editor and proprietor until January 1893, afterward becoming postmaster and then mayor of Johnstown. Founded in 1889, the Weekly Democrat was a Friday-morning newspaper, and the issue of July 5, 1889, was its first since the flood. The newspaper had sustained equipment damage and needed a new, temporary building.  Most of the issue, beginning with the entire front page, dealt with the disaster, and more than a century later, the enormity of the losses still make painful reading. Pages two and three comprised “The Awful List” of the dead to date, many with only a physical description or the contents of their pockets (777 people, one-third of the dead, were never identified). Personal accounts of the flood are particularly horrifying, so vivid and yet so stoic, lacking the self-dramatization common to our day.  

            By the July 12 issue, attention turned to the question of why donated funds (more than $3 million poured into the state government from this county and 18 others) were not reaching the afflicted.  “One dollar would be of more use now than five in three months from this time,” the editor noted. The Johnstown Flood sparked the first major relief effort for the American Red Cross, founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, who stayed in Johnstown for five months, supervising a hospital, commissary, and emergency housing. An article appearing, in the Weekly Democrat on August 16, 1889, described Barton working at her “desk” made of a few wooden planks, with “a good natured smile and a kind word for everyone.”

            Normalcy slowly returned to Johnstown in subsequent months, though bodies continued to be found along the waterways. The issue of Weekly Democrat published nearest to the flood’s one-year anniversary did not mention the disaster.

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