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An infamous site of a major fire during the flood was the old stone Pennsylvania Railroad bridge located where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh rivers join to form the Conemaugh River. The Johnstown Flood established the American Red Cross as the pre-eminent emergency relief organization in the United States.

Founder Clara Barton, then 67, came to Johnstown with 50 doctors and nurses and set up tent hospitals as well as temporary "hotels" for the homeless, and stayed on for five months to coordinate relief efforts. The Cambria Works grew, and Johnstown became more prosperous than ever.

The 1977 flood - in what was to have been a "flood free" city - may have contributed to Johnstown's subsequent population decline and inability to attract new residents and businesses.

The city is home to five national historic districts: the Downtown Johnstown Historic District, Cambria City Historic District, Minersville Historic District, Moxham Historic District, and Old Conemaugh Borough Historic District.

The "Great Flood" of May 31, 1889, occurred after the South Fork Dam collapsed 14.1 miles (22.7 km) upstream from the city during heavy rains.

At least 2,209 people died as a result of the flood and subsequent fire that raged through the debris. Despite a pledge by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to make the city flood free, and subsequent work to do so, another major flood occurred in 1977.

Johnstown was formally organized as a town in 1800 by the Swiss German immigrant Joseph Johns (born Josef Schantz).

Johnstown was at the head of the canal's western branch, with canal boats having been transported over the mountains via the Allegheny Portage Railroad and refloated here, to continue the trip by water to Pittsburgh and the Ohio Valley.

Perhaps the most famous passenger who traveled via the canal to visit Johnstown briefly was Charles Dickens in 1842.

Twenty years after its founding, the Cambria Works was a huge enterprise sprawling over 60 acres (240,000 m) of valuable mineral lands in a region with a ready supply of iron, coal and limestone.

Floods were almost a yearly event in the valley during the 1880s.

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