The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club: A Resort Established for the Wealthy Families Implicated in the Devastating Johnstown Flood

 

 
 

The Clubhouse for the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was constructed in 1879 and used between 1881 and 1889 by members of the club and their guests as a country retreat. Club members were some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the United States at the time, who controlled the steel, railroad, banking, and mining industries that were the economic powerhouses of the time. Among them were Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew W. Mellon, members of the US House of Representatives and Senate, and Secretaries of US Cabinets. The Clubhouse and numerous associated cottages were located along the shore of Lake Conemaugh, a reservoir originally constructed in the 1830’s. In 1889, the earthen dam that held back the watersofthelakecollapsed,  resultinginthe1889JohnstownFloodthat   killed approximately 2,200 people, most of whom worked as employees of companies owned by members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. The Johnstown Flood was regarded by many as an example of the callous incompetence of an elite that had managed to take control of companies “too big to fail,” as might be said today. Many historians credit the widespread news coverage of the flood for energizing the labor union movement that burgeoned in succeeding decades.

CSRM conducted a ground penetration radar (GPR) survey of the area behind the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Clubhouse. While many photos showing the front of the clubhouse can be found in archives, none existed showing the landscape behind the clubhouse. Analysis of GPR data suggested that several features were located behind the clubhouse, including a carriage house, an outhouse, and an ice house. This would have been a logical area in which to place such utilitarian features. 

Click here for the draft report of the intensive archaeological identification and evaluation study of the South Fork fishing and hunting club.