(Passage from the Provincial Annals of 1889 used with permission of the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)
On May 31, 1889, heavy rains and failure of a neglected dam led to the Johnstown Flood, in which 2,209 people died. While the Daughters of Charity were not directly affected by the flood, the Provincial Annals have an account of how the same torrential rains that contributed to the disaster in Johnstown also affected Emmitsburg. The Annals also tell of the Sisters in Emmitsburg receiving the news of the devastation in Johnstown.
(Provincial Annals, 1889)
Thursday, May 30. Ascension day: rain. Archbp. Gross on the noon train came with his brother & sister-in-law to see his niece in the Academy …
Friday, May 31. “The rain it raineth everyday.” …
Sat., June 1. Torrents of rain! and last night the flood gates were opened wider than ever. Not since 1844 has Toms Creek been so high; higher by two inches this time than that. The devastation & loss of property thro the Co. said to be very great, no afternoon train from Balt. last evening no could that from Rocky Ridge have crossed our bridge had it come, for the trestle work is washed away. Our staunch little foot bridge, which seemed such a model of strength in its way washed off & it isn’t even known where it is, the rails of the fences washed away … Uneasy about Father & can’t help being so travelling at this dangerous time. However the telegraph is in operation and if there had been bad news it would have come.
Sunday, June 2. Retreat Sunday, clear, bright day … A telegram this evening from Father, in Baltimore, got as far as Harrisburg on his journey, & in consequence of flood, returned & was en route for Washington. Safe! Deo gratias!
Monday, June 3d. Our loss is estimated at about $800. Our neighbor had his barn washed away, disasters on all sides. A terrific one at Johnstown, PA.
Tuesday night: Telegram. Father at Mt. Hope & will be home tomorrow. And home he came on Wednesday’s 11 o’clock train. R. Roads so unsafe & travel so precarious he tho’t it better to postpone his trip and return home & now that communication with the outside world has been resumed & papers come in, Father brought a lot, the terrible disaster of Johnstown comes to be understood & hearts sink as detail after detail is unveiled. Now we comprehend too why it was that such a feeling of unrest pervaded the house on Father’s account. He left here Thursday for Chicago, paused at Mt. Hope, determined to take his Chicago ticket over Penn. R.R. (which passes right thro Johnstown). A few hours earlier he would have been in the devastated district …
The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill had two convents in Johnstown, St. John Gaulbert Convent and St. Columba’s Convent. Our next few posts will feature stories taken from the Seton Hill archives about the flood’s impact on the Seton Hill congregation. Special thanks to Sr. Louise Grundish, archivist for the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, for sharing her community’s stories with us.
Learn more about the Johnstown Flood at the website of the Johnstown Flood Museum