In the immediate aftermath of the devastating 1889 Flood, several prefab “Oklahoma” homes were sent to Johnstown to provide shelter for residents who had nowhere to live.
All except one are now gone, lost to history.
But, for years, the Johnstown Area Heritage Association has displayed the structure next to the Johnstown Flood Museum, located on Washington Street.
And, like any wooden building that is more than a century old and exposed to the elements, it is, on occasion, in need of some care. So, over the past few weeks, members of Local 423 of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters have been touching up the structure, replacing some rotten window seals and floor boards, while adding a new paint job.
Work is expected to conclude by the end of the week.
“It means a great deal, especially with Johnstown being the Flood City and them buying this house,” Michael “M.J.” Regan, the local’s council representative, said. “For us to be a small part in preserving it means a lot to our local. It wasn’t hard to get volunteers. I told the guys what we were doing. We’ve been at this for two weeks, a couple hours in the evenings every night. I’ve had five to six guys every night. No problem at all getting help because it means a great deal to these guys, too.”
The homes, which were designed to provide basic shelter, were originally manufactured for use by homesteaders in the Oklahoma Territory. But some were re-routed to Johnstown after the flood that destroyed the town and killed more than 2,000 area residents.
Up to 10 people sometimes stayed in the structures that measured either 16-by-24 feet or 10-by-20 feet.
“When people find out the numbers of people that were living in these houses in the aftermath of the flood they are surprised,” JAHA curator Andrew Lang said. “It really just emphasizes all the more just what the circumstances were like for people in Johnstown after the flood that this was better than living in a lean-to, this was better than living outside. So people made do with what they had available to them, which is really one of the major themes of just the flood experience in and of itself.”
The Oklahoma home owned by JAHA was originally discovered in the city’s Moxham neighborhood after its porch caught on fire. It was located on a lot acquired by Habitat for Humanity, which then donated it to JAHA.
It was then moved to its current location.
Visitors to the Flood Museum can enter the house and see furnishings and domestic items provided by the American Red Cross and other agencies that helped the survivors after the disaster.
“This is a genuine historic relic, a genuine flood artifact right here in our midst that you can go in and walk around in,” Lang said. “They really like it. This is kind of a memorable part of people’s visit. And all the more important that we do our best to preserve it to the best of our ability, which makes us all the more appreciative of Local 423 and their efforts to assist us in doing so.”