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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Saint Michael in Cambria County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

The Dam Melts Away

 
 
The Dam Melts Away Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., June 26, 2009
1. The Dam Melts Away Marker
Inscription. Just below you stands the remains of the South Fork Dam, a 931-foot-long dam made chiefly of earth. The dam remains intact on the ends where it joins the sides of the valley. But at its center, a 300-foot section is gone. Through this chasm the waters of Lake Conemaugh roared on May 31, 1889.

On that rainy morning, Col. Elias J. Unger began supervising efforts to save the dam. Unger, who was then President of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, lived in the house beside this exhibit. With a crew of some 15 laborers he tried to dig an auxiliary spillway on the far end of the dam, then tried to make the dam higher by plowing the dam's crest and piling up the dirt. Nothing worked.

At 3:15 p.m., the dam gave way. The center of the dam seemed to “melt away” under the force of the flood. And, as one witness observed, “the entire lake began to move.”

“God have mercy on the people below.”
Rev. G. W. Brown
Eyewitness at South Fork Dam
May 31, 1889
 
Erected by National Park Service.
 
Location. 40° 20.956′ N, 78° 46.28′ W. Marker is in Saint Michael, Pennsylvania, in Cambria County. Click for map. Marker is on the grounds of the
Chronology of the Failure, May 31, 1889 image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., June 26, 2009
2. Chronology of the Failure, May 31, 1889
Johnstown Flood National Memorial, adjacent to the Unger House, about 100 feet south of the visitor center, off Lake Road. Marker is in this post office area: South Fork PA 15956, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Lake Conemaugh (here, next to this marker); The Unger House (a few steps from this marker); May 31, 1889 (within shouting distance of this marker); The South Fork Dam (approx. 0.2 miles away); Johnstown Flood (approx. 0.7 miles away); American Legion Post 551 Veterans Memorial (approx. 0.8 miles away); Saint Michael World War II Honor Roll (approx. 1.2 miles away); Sgt Michael Strank (approx. 6 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Saint Michael.
 
Also see . . .  History of the Johnstown Flood. (Submitted on August 22, 2009, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
 
Categories. DisastersMan-Made FeaturesNotable Events
 
The Dam Melts Away Drawing image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., June 26, 2009
3. The Dam Melts Away Drawing
Artist's conception of the failure of the South Fork Dam about 3:15 p.m., on May 31, 1889. Strictly speaking, the dam did not "break." Water flowing over the dam eroded the outer wall until it was so thin the water pushed through.
The Dam Melts Away Photo image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., June 26, 2009
4. The Dam Melts Away Photo
The drained bed of Lake Conemaugh after the dam failed. The lake was transformed into a huge mud bowl in just 45 minutes. Visible on the lakeshore are the clubhouse and cottages of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.
The Dam Melts Away Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., June 26, 2009
5. The Dam Melts Away Marker
Lake Conemaugh Marker to left and Unger House to right.
Remains of the South Fork Dam image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., June 26, 2009
6. Remains of the South Fork Dam
Looking west from the Unger House, showing dam breach. US Route 219 at upper right rear.
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 1,284 times since then and 28 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on , by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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