The Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center is a museum that tells the story of the region’s iron, steel, and coal industries through the eyes of the everyday people who were the backbone of those enterprises in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Using dioramas, artifacts, and multimedia displays, the museum gives visitors insight into the day-to-day lives of the predominately-immigrant workforce that made Johnstown an important part of the Industrial Revolution in America.
The museum is housed in the former Germania Brewing Company building, built in 1907.
The brewery closed with the advent of Prohibition, and subsequently was used by a meat-packing company, an electrical supply company, and a paper company.
The Johnstown Area Heritage Association acquired the building in 1992, and opened the first phase of the museum in 2001.
America: Through Immigrant Eyes
The “America: Through Immigrant Eyes” exhibit on the first floor of the museum takes you inside the daily life of the immigrants who arrived in Johnstown between 1880-1914.
Using an ID card you choose when you pay your admission to enter the museum, you’ll experience the daily life of the fictional immigrant character portrayed on your card as you make your way through the interactive multimedia exhibits on this floor of the museum.
From where they lived to where they worked to where they shopped, you’ll get a taste of what life was like in the various ethnic neighborhoods in Johnstown during this time period.
Jobs in the iron and steel works were hard, dirty, and dangerous, and the pay was often just enough to survive on.
But survive and thrive these immigrants did, building a tapestry of neighborhoods around Johnstown with their own customs brought from “the Old Country”.
A timeline of historical highlights summarizes the the many changes the city underwent in the 20th century.
For example, the Cambria Steel Company (which itself evolved from Cambria Iron Company in 1898) became part of the Bethlehem Steel Company in 1923.
And in 1960, the last of the trolleys ran in Johnstown, replaced by busses.
Today, some of those same trolley cars reside nearby, in the famous Windber Trolley Graveyard.
The Iron and Steel Gallery
The Iron and Steel Gallery is a three-story display of artwork and artifacts from the regions iron, steel, and coal industries.
The mills of Johnstown produced not just raw materials like iron and steel, but finished goods as well.
From jail bars to railroad cars, you’ll learn about the many products that they were manufactured in Johnstown during they heyday of the steel industry in the city.
One interesting fact I learned when visiting – the 8″ rolling mill in Johnstown at one time produced enough sled runner each year to stretch across the United States!
“The Mystery of Steel” is a short film shown in a theater at the bottom of the three-story gallery, documenting Johnstown’s role in the early steel industry.
The Johnstown Children’s Museum
The Johnstown Children’s Museum is locate on the third floor of the Heritage Discovery Center.
Essentially, the children’s museum utilizes “please-touch” exhibits to teach kids the history, geography, and culture of Johnstown.
Much of the subject material covered is similar to that covered in the “grown-up” parts of the museum, with an emphasis on the iron, steel. and coal industries.
There’s even an exhibit about Steve Ditko, Johnstown native and co-creator of Spider-Man, who is now honored with a Spider-man mural in downtown Johnstown as well.
The Rooftop Garden
Accessed from the Children’s Museum on the third floor, the Rooftop Garden features native species plants and spectacular views.
This is truly a beautiful vantage point to take in the surrounding Cambria City Historic District.
Hours and Directions
The Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center is open Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:00 am-5:00 pm; and open Sundays from noon-5:00 pm.
The entrance to the parking lot is located at the intersection of Seventh & Broad Streets (Broad Street is also known as Rt. 56) in the Cambria City National Historic District in Johnstown.
Admission to the Heritage Discovery Center is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $8 for children from 3-18 (children 2 and under are free).
The Johnstown Flood Museum, located in downtown Johnstown, tells the story of the tragic May 31, 1889 flood that killed over 2,200 people and captured the attention of the entire world
Through a mixture of interpretive exhibits, surviving artifacts, photographs, and an award-winning film, visitors to the Johnstown Flood Museum can get a sense not only of the causes of the flood and the devastation in wreaked, but of the recovery and rebuilding efforts as well.
The Spider-Man mural in Johnstown is a tribute to Johnstown native, legendary comic-book artist, and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.
George’s Song Shop in downtown Johnstown is America’s oldest record store!
Hinckston Run Falls is a man-made waterfall formed by the outflow of the Hinckston Run Reservoir near Johnstown.
The Johnstown Flood National Memorial was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1964, and encompasses and preserves the remains of the South Fork Dam, the former Lake Conemaugh lakebed, the farm of Elias Unger, and the clubhouse and cottages of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, owners of the lake and dam in 1889.
Did you enjoy this article?
If so, be sure to like and follow PA Bucket List on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest to stay up-to-date on my latest write-ups about the best things to see and do in Pennsylvania!
Click on any of the icons below to get connected to PA Bucket List on social media.