Johnstown, PA (JST)
Opened in 1916, the grand Beaux-Arts station is today home to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association and serves as a hub for city visitors.
47 Walnut Street
Johnstown, PA 15901
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 22,184
- Facility Ownership: Johnstown Area Heritage Association
- Parking Lot Ownership: Johnstown Area Heritage Association
- Platform Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
- Track Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Passengers arriving at the Johnstown station will find themselves alighting on an elevated platform about two stories above the city street, scant blocks from the confluence of the Conemaugh and Stoneycreek rivers and between steep wooded hills. They enter the station via steps or an elevator down and a tiled pedestrian subway into what had been a concourse hall on the west side of the station.
The facility is the second Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) station to have been erected in Johnstown. The earlier station was at the corner of Iron and Station Streets, and by 1914 it was outdated and insufficient for handling the traffic of what was one of the busiest stops on the main line. The grand new station, which was begun in 1915 and dedicated on October 12, 1916, was bestowed upon the city not only as a reward for its significant industrial contributions to the railroad, but according to speeches made at the event, as recognition that Johnstown had become a city of intellectual and spiritual values.
It had also been constructed as part of the PRR’s project to eliminate at-grade crossings all along the main line by elevating the track. The project in Johnstown eliminated three surface crossings, replacing them with pedestrian subways. The total cost for the construction of the new station, subways and the elimination of the crossings was $3 million. Since 1916, the station has been the setting for returning war heroes, presidential campaign whistle-stops and visits from national leaders.
The station’s architect, Kenneth M. Murchison of New York, received his architectural training at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and constructed several well-known stations during his career, including the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western stations in Hoboken, N.J., and Scranton, Pa., as well as Baltimore Union Station. Murchison’s design of the Johnstown building was typical of Beaux-Arts design incorporating Neoclassical elements.
A spacious three-story vaulted waiting room rises above the two story mass that housed the railroad’s administrative and service functions, and sits directly beside the single-story baggage building. The main building’s exterior walls are tapestry brick with sandstone columns, pilasters and roundels; a sandstone stringcourse and cornice; and terracotta keystone. The base of the building is sheathed in granite.
Facing Walnut Street, the main entrance is divided into three bays with a central portico into the main waiting room; today’s waiting area is entered from the left side of that façade. The terminating bays on this side project slightly and feature two-story brick arches; on the left of the entrance, the windows in the arches are replaced by entry doors into the concourse waiting area. Two Doric pillars and two pilasters set off the recessed main entry, with its three wide doors and nine-light decorative windows above each. Below the dentilled course of the roof’s parapet and above a sandstone belt, the word, “Pennsylvania” is lettered above the entrance.
The east façade faces the parking lot and its central portico lets into a vestibule and lobby between the former ticket office and women’s waiting room. There are thirteen windows on that side, six on the first floor and seven on the second. The ground floor windows on each end are framed in sandstone and topped by ornate sandstone pediments with terra cotta brackets. Between them six attached two-story sandstone pillars frame the four middle bays symmetrically.
The roof on the two-story mass of the building is a flat parapet roof, with a clock built into the eastern side. The waiting room vault’s roof, rising another story above that, is gabled, with a large semi-circular light covered in decorative metalwork in the south-facing end, emphasized with a sandstone blocking course, and lit on the east and west sides with smaller rectangular windows. An ornamental brick chimney faces the railroad tracks.
The central Guastavino vault provides drama to the waiting room, which is floored in terrazzo with cream colored marble accents. (Guastavino tiling, often seen in Beaux-Arts public buildings, is a patented technique for constructing robust, self-supporting arches and architectural vaults using interlocking terracotta tiles and layers of mortar to form a thin skin, with the tiles following the curve of the roof). Marble Doric pilasters articulate the waiting room walls, which have marble wainscoting. Terra cotta roundels adorn the tops of the columns. The original marble-based oak benches in the waiting room still remain. Doorways in the waiting room lead off to service areas, the concourse, restrooms, newsstand, and baggage area; the original doors have been removed.
The PRR made its ill-fated merger with the New York Central in the 1960s, with its subsequent reorganization into Conrail, and the station, along with many other PRR properties, was sold off. Significant renovations were made in 1976, with the removal of the passenger platform to accommodate Amtrak trains. Amtrak first received the property, which was then conveyed to Walnut Street Properties in 1985-1986, and shortly thereafter to SFB Partnership and in 2010 to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA).
In 1996, the JAHA coordinated a $300,000 restoration to rehabilitate the ceiling and walls of the concourse; install new lights in the waiting room; move the ticket office and other Amtrak functions to a new area with separate utilities; and install an exhibit across the concourse walls that orients visitors to Johnstown and the surrounding region. Funding for those improvements was obtained through the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and a federal Transportation Enhancements grant.
The JAHA has had a longstanding interest in the station, as it is physically central to their projects. Using the station as a visitors’ center was suggested in a 1991 planning document, but it was not until November 10, 2010 that JAHA publicly announced its plans to use the station as a major link in the Johnstown Discovery Network, as well as a venue in the development of nearby Festival Park. The association manages the Johnstown Flood Museum, the Frank & Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center and the Johnstown Children’s Museum; the Discovery Network is made up of these and a dozen other heritage venues throughout the city and nearby.
In October 2014, the JAHA and city received approximately $848,000 through the state’s Multimodal Transportation Fund, a component of Act 89 passed in 2013. Act 89 funds are in part generated through a staggered increase in the state tax rate on wholesale gasoline and diesel fuel. The JAHA will use the funds to renovate the historic station; the grand old waiting room will gain a new events space and visitor center that will become Johnstown’s tourist hub.
American settlement of the valley of the Conemaugh and Stoneycreek Rivers did not take place until after the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1786. Then, in 1791, a 249-acre tract of land around the confluence of those two rivers was sold to Swiss immigrant Josef Shantz; his name, Anglicized to Johns, gives the city its name. It supplanted a native settlement, called Kickenapawling, and was initially referred to as Conemaugh.
Johnstown incorporated as a borough in 1800 and served as a transportation hub where trade to the west transferred to and from flatboats, to go down the Conemaugh toward Ohio or over the mountains toward Philadelphia via the Juniata River. The portage over the mountains started as the Kittaning trail, and from 1828 to 1857, the city became a key transfer point along the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal—barges were transferred over the mountains via the double-tracked Allegheny Portage Railroad, the highest railroad tunnels of the time—and refloated in Johnstown. With the Portage Railroad completed, time to travel across the state shrank from three weeks to one.
Pennsylvania sold its canal to the railroad in 1857 for $7.2 million as the canal became obsolete. The new rail line paralleled the canals and rivers because of the geography of the countryside. Where barge trade had prospered the town, the railroad brought burgeoning industry and more substantial growth.
The opening of the Pennsylvania Railroad made canal travel obsolete, but the local abundance of coal and iron brought the town and its surrounding area to the forefront of the growing steel industry, where it remained for over a century. The founder of the Cambria Iron Company, which was organized in 1852, had seen the lucrative opportunity to support the railroad through manufacture of rails, wire, switches and other steel parts.
Iron smelting was not new to Johnstown and many of the barges than had passed through during the canal days had carried pig iron to Pittsburgh. But in time, the Cambria Iron Company came to dominate the city. From the original one-acre ironworks in the center of the city, the immediate complex reached 60 acres, with more than 48,000 acres in other counties, operating its own iron and coal mines and freight-hauling railroads to move the products within the company. Cambria reorganized into Cambria Steel in 1898,; by then it was a city inside of a city, with its own schools, housing, large company store, and hospitals, employing many thousands of workers.
Satellite industries and businesses were set up to ensure that Cambria had total control of its environment. In conjunction with the opening of its mills, Cambria Iron’s Rolling Mill Mine opened in 1855, across the Conemaugh from the rolling mill near where the station lies. Covering ten square miles, as well as the Blast Furnace Mine, it was even closer to the mill. Brick, cement, and other clay products were also crucial ingredients in iron-making, providing building materials for molds, lining furnaces and ovens. The company also owned an influential company store and a local furniture manufacturing plant.
By 1882, the boroughs had also become dependent upon Cambria Iron for support, as the city council’s civic improvements were sporadic and ineffective. The first major such undertaking was Cambria’s chartering a water company in 1866 to provide water to the mills and the surrounding boroughs. The Johnstown Street Railway company was also linked to Cambria, providing inter-urban transport in the regions. Likewise, it was Cambria that brought in a reliable supply of heating and lighting gas. In 1881, electric lights were installed in the mills, and telegraph and telephone service reached Johnstown because of Cambria’s need to communicate within the company, phones eventually going into the houses of company executives. Cambria even encouraged the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) to build a spur into the city, but that never truly competed with the PRR. The importance of the Pennsylvania Railroad station was signified by its location squarely within Cambria’s Millville, on “The Point,” at the confluence of the rivers.
On May 31, 1889, Johnstown was catapulted from being known as the home of one of the foremost steel-producing enterprises in the United States to worldwide attention as the victim of a catastrophic flood. Wealthy east-end Pittsburghers had established a resort in the mountains 14 miles along Stoneycreek River above Johnstown on what had been one of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal’s reservoirs, held in by the South Fork Dam. Poor maintenance on the dam, by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club that owned it, coupled with high rainfall, led to the dam disintegrating at 3:10 pm on the afternoon of May 31st, releasing 20 million tons of water into the valley. Fifty-seven minutes later the wave of water crested past the borough boundaries, having already leveled the village of Mineral Point and Cambria Iron’s planing mill and furniture factory there. It snapped off whole trees, carried boulders, and when it reached the rail yard in East Conemaugh, added railroad engines and cars to the vast collection of debris. The entire village of Woodvale, a tannery, and a barbed wire manufacturing plant swept up by the wave crashed into Johnstown’s downtown and swept it down the valley of the Conemaugh. Very few downtown buildings survived, leaving citizens homeless, and the toll in lives has been estimated at 2,209 people.
The damage was so extensive that numerous national relief efforts were organized. Fifty Red Cross doctors and nurses, led by Clara Barton, came from Washington, D.C., to assist, that organization’s first peace-time effort. The enormity of the trauma became part of the city’s identity henceforth—as did its power to recover from the tragedy, which it certainly did.
The entire municipal government was reorganized after the flood, and the city itself formed as a result, incorporating in 1889, consolidating many surrounding boroughs. The flood devastated not only the citizenry but the many small governments, which could not possibly have rebuilt on their own; and the Pennsylvania governor’s flood relief commission dispensed aid without regard to former boundaries, so combining into one city finally made sense.
The city did thrive again. The most ambitious post-flood development was undertaken by Cambria Iron, converting farmland on the top of Yoder Hill into a large residential area. Transportation up the hill was arduous and dangerous, so the company created the Incline Plane. The 987-foot Inclined Plane, a cable car system with two counter-balance cars running on tracks, runs straight up the hill at a 71-degree grade, connected by a cast-iron bridge across the Stoneycreek River. The large cars provided a level ride for horses’ wagons and pedestrians. The only change since its construction was the substitution in 1962 of a 400-horsepower electric motor for the original steam engine when the Cambria County Tourist Council restored and reopened the Plane. The Inclined Plane is part of the Johnstown Discovery Network and it still operates today.
The Midvale Steel & Ordnance Company of Nicetown, Pennsylvania bought the Cambria Steel Company in 1916, selling it to the Bethlehem Steel Company in 1923. Technology and transportation improvements reduced Johnstown’s advantage as an industrial center in the twentieth century, as the Laurel Highlands region is relatively isolated, and unemployment rose dramatically during the Great Depression. Wartime steel production in the twentieth century brought prosperity again to Johnstown. The city, however survived two more large floods, one in 1936 and one in 1977. The last flood so damaged the Bethlehem complex in the city, and new regulations required such changes that the company finally reduced production in the city significantly. When Bethlehem Steel closed its Johnstown plant in 1992, the city began in the process of reinventing itself from a single-industry town as it goes forward into the 21st century.
The staffed Johnstown station, which provides both ticketing and baggage services, is served by two daily trains.
The Pennsylvanian is financed primarily through funds made available by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
- 6 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Baggage Storage
- Dedicated Parking
- Elevator Accessible
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- Pay Phones
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift