History of Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa.
From: History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania
By: John E. Gable
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis, 1926


Johnstown, originally the Indian town of Con-ne-maugh, was founded by Joseph Johns, or Schantz, in 1800. It comprised about 249 acres, embracing a large part of what is now the central portion of the city. He erected the first house to be built in the city, a one story log cabin of black walnut.

In 1800 Joseph Johns laid out the village and named it Conemaugh. Later it was known as Shontz's Town, then Johnstown, in honor of its founder.

Joseph Johns, with his sister, Frainie (Veronica), came to this country from Switzerland in 1768 and located in Berks County, where he was married to Frainie Holly. It is a singular fact that Joseph Johns was never a resident of Cambria County, having founded what is now Johnstown when it was a part of Somerset County and having removed from it before Cambria County was regularly constituted. Joseph Johns died on his farm in Somerset County on Jan. 18, 1810, at the age of sixty years. He was of the Amish Mennonite religion.

By the special act of the General Assembly on Jan. 12, 1831, approved by Gov. George Wooffe, Johnstown, then known as "the town of Conemaugh in Cambria County," was incorporated into a borough. By a special act, April 14, 1834, the name borough of Conemaugh was changed to Johnstown. April 8, 1858, Johnstown was divided into four wards. George IV. Kern was the first burgess of the borough of Conemaugh in 1831 and Irvin IHorrell was the last burgess of the same borough in 1889.

The city of Johnstown came into being after that disastrous calamity, the Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889. Johnstown and its neighboring boroughs were practically wiped out. They realized the necessity of consolidating to rebuild their respective communities. To that end the subject of consolidation was submitted to a vote of the people of the several boroughs at a general election, Nov. 5, 1889. East Conemaugh and Franklin voted against it. They are still independent boroughs. Plans for organizing the new city government were in charge of the committee on arrangements which consisted of Thomas P. Kennedy of Millville, H. W. Storey of Johnstown and David Barry of Prospect. The finance committee was composed of Herman Baumel, John N. Horne, Samuel Vaughn.

W. Horace Rose, the first mayor, was inaugurated Monday, April 7, 1890. In order of service other mayors were James K. Boyd, George W. Wagoner, Lucian D. Woodruff, John Pendry, Charles Young, Alexander Wilson, Joseph Cauffiel, Louis Franke, Joseph Caufflel, and the present mayor, Louis Franke.

The boroughs consolidating to form the city of Johnstown were Johnstown, Grubbtown, Conemaugh, Woodvale, Prospect, Millville and Cambria. Johnstown contained seven wards and they became the first seven wards of the new city. Grubbtown became the Eighth Ward; the First and Second wards of Conemaugh became the Ninth and Tenth wards; Woodvale, the Eleventh; Prospect, the Twelfth; Miliville, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth; Cambria, the Fifteenth and Sixteenth. A court decree created the Seveteenth Ward from a part of the old Seventh Ward in 1891, and in 1899 the city, by ordinance, annexed a part of the Rodgers farm to the Seventeenth.

The first borough to seek annexation to the new city of Johnstown was Morreliville. The borough council passed a resolution favoring annexation Aug. 20, 1897, which was presented to the city council. Both branches of the city council unanimously passed the resolution Oct. 12, but the mayor vetoed it. The matter was taken to court which confirmed the annexation July 29, 1898. Morrellville then became the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth wards. The borough of Coopersdale, formerly known as Perkinsville, was incorporated Oct. 7, 1889. At the time of the formation of the new city of Johnstown, Coopersdale voted to consolidate with the other boroughs, but not being adjacent territory at that time could not be incorporated with the city. However, after the dispute over the annexation of Morrellville was settled the citizens of this borough petitioned for annexation and became the Twenty first Ward of the city March 24, 1898.

Early white settlers in this vicinity were Solomon Adams on Solomon's Run, Samuel Adams on Sam's Run, John Cheney on Cheney's Run, Benjamin Adams on Ben's Run. Solomon and Samuel Adams are thought to have been the first to settle. Following the Adamses were the Stutzmans, Wissingers, Homers, Goaghnours, Goods, Reams, Beams and Yoders. Later came the Hamiltons, Lintons, Gateses, Sinelairs and Hershbergers. Many of their descendants still live in the city.

In these early days farming was the principal occupation of the settlers. Little progress was made in the building up of the town until the advent of the Pennsylvania Canal, a gigantic project to the settlers at that time. The canal system was completed about 1832 with locks and dams from Pittsburgh to Johnstown, a railroad on which cars were drawn by horses and later by locomotives between Johnstown and Hollidaysburg; a canal from Hollidaysburg through the Juniata Valley and along the Susquehanna River to Columbia; and a railroad from Columbia to the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. This made a system of transportation in an almost direct route across the state. It gave the people of Pennsylvania an opportunity to handle their commerce on a much larger scale than they were able to do by wagon trains over the mountains.

The natural result was that Johnstown began to grow and prosper. The basin of the canal in which the boats were moored for loading and unloading occupied portions of the Third, Ninth and Tenth wards, between Clinton and Railroad streets on the west and south, and "Five Points" and Portage Street on the east and north. For thirty one years this portion of the city was one of the most important shipping points on this transportation system. On May 1, 1863, the Pennsylvania Railroad abandoned the canal between Johnstown and Blairsville, which it had bought from the state in 1852, and replaced it with the steam railway.

Johnstown was first named Conemaugh, and Joseph Shantz or Johns so dedicated it, the appellation coming from the Indians, who had a town at the forks of the Conemaugh and the Stonycreek. A Shawonese tribe was here in 1731 and later, but the Delawares probably were here before them. The two tribes differed widely in characteristics, the latter being generally friendly and honorable in peace and war. When Johnstown abandoned the Indian name the Conemaugh borough suburb took it up and though the borough long ago became part of the city, many of its older residents still speak of the locality as "the borough." When the town of East Conemaugh was built up about the round house and shops of the Pennsylvania Railroad, on the north side of the Little Conemaugh, it took the name of East Conemaugh, which it still retains, though locally it is generally known simply as Conemaugh. In 1900 it had 2,175 inhabitants, in 1910 there were 5,016 and in 1920 the census showed 5,256. The town was fairly well built up and had almost ceased to grow within its boundaries, but beyond its limits mines were opened up and population continued to increase rapidly.

Opposite East Conemaugh, across the Pennsylvania Railroad yards and the Little Conemaugh, is Franklin Borough, which grew from 961 inhabitants in 1900 to 2,102 in 1910 and 2,632 in 1920. Franklin grew out of the desire of workers to live close to the mill gates and the old "company house" policy of Cambria Steel Company, but many of the homes and business places became private property. With the development of the Franklin plant of Cambria Steel, a battery of blast furnaces, coke ovens, open hearths, mills, steel car plant, steel wheel plant and other extensions, Franklin Borough became an anomaly among mill towns in this state. Its growth in population was limited by its small area. Smoke, dust and gas from the railroad and the steel plants made it an undesirable place in which to live, private property stood in the way of plant improvements and extensions but Franklin as a municipality was immensely rich. Franklin Borough council and Franklin school board tax collectors received more than 90 per cent of taxes from Cambria Steel Company. The steel works were assessed at about $15,000,000 and a 10 mill tax meant a check for $150,000 for each. This condition still exists, and will continue to exist until the mills crowd out the homes or the entire borough is annexed to the city of Johnstown.

Almost as strange in its relation to the larger municipality is Dale Borough. Dale is a residence section, with some business. It had a population of 1,503 in 1900, 2,285 in 1910 and 3,115 in 1920. It is well built up, only a few minutes walk from the business center of the city. It has the unique distinction of being entirely surrounded by the city yet maintaining its municipal independence. A large number of taxable residents several years ago signed petitions for annexation to the city, but the proceedings were halted by an adverse decision of the higher courts on legal technicalities.

Ferndale Borough, which grew from 224 inhabitants in 1900 to 514 in 1910 and 1,450 in 1920, nestles between the Stonycreek and the south hill just beyond the Seventeenth Ward limits of the city and the boundary of the Eighth Ward, a part of the city in everything but local government On another edge of the Seventeenth Ward is Lorain Borough, carved out of Stonycreek Township. It had a population of 810 in 1920.

Looking down on the center of the city, and connected with it by Incline Plane, is Westmont Borough. It had 499 inhabitants in 1900, 1,468 in 1910 and 1,976 in 1920. It was built for Cambria Steel Company employes, building restrictions as to use and as to set back lines were enforced from the beginning and the development became one of the prettiest residential suburbs in the state. Beyond Westmont, on the hill top, and extending down to the city line in the Eighth Ward, Southmont Borough was prettily laid out. It had 281 inhabitants in 1920. Both Southmont and Westmont are growing rapidly and both have taken within their boundaries additional portions of Upper Yoder Township, extending beautiful suburban development to ground overlooking the Benscreek Valley and out into the Laurel Ridge as far as Mill Creek and beyond.

Between Westmont and the Cambria City section, high on the slope of the river hill, is Brownstown Borough, which had 1,300 inhabitants in 1910 and 1,489 in 1920. It is the home of workmen.

All of these boroughs are a part of the metropolitan district of Johnstown. Oakhurst Borough, which had grown up on the hillside above Morrellville, has been taken into the city. Daisytown Borough, on Green Hill along the Frankstown road now being made into state highway, and the unincorporated but rapidly growing Geistown section, above the Walnut Grove annex to the Seventeenth Ward, are suburbs of Johnstown.

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