Wednesday, Aug 24, 2005
Park service to preserve St. Michael clubhouse Posted-Tuesday, August 23, 2005 11:53 PM EDT By KATHY MELLOTT THE TRIBUNE-DEMOCRAT
ST. MICHAEL - A 4-foot-tall window was lifted out of the first floor of the 1889 South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club on Tuesday.
It then was put back in a symbolic gesture of the start of emergency stabilization work on the historic structure. The massive building once served as a headquarters for well-heeled steel and coal magnates of Pittsburgh.
Two months from now, ownership of the clubhouse and an annex and two cottages officially will be transferred to the National Park Service.
They will be key additions to the nearby Johnstown Flood National Memorial, a tourist site already operated by the park service.
The neglect of the Lake Conemaugh dam by members of the fishing and hunting club is blamed for its catastrophic collapse. The subsequent flood killed 2,209 people.
"We are turning another chapter in the history of this magnificent old structure," said Keith Newlin, park service superintendent of the flood memorial and Allegheny Portage National Railroad. "The hope is these temporary repairs will slow the aging process down until the money can be found for restoration."
The flood memorial visitors center is on a hillside north of the clubhouse.
Restoration of the clubhouse and the deteriorating Moorehead cottage is expected to cost between $1 million and $3 million, Newlin said Tuesday.
A third structure, the Brown cottage, on a hill overlooking the clubhouse, is in better shape.
Plans are to someday build a connecting trail between the clubhouse and flood memorial.
The buildings and their 14 acres, for years in the hands of the 1889 South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club Historical Preservation Society, have been donated to the park service. They are an in-kind payment matching the $329,000 in federal money obtained by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown.
"This has been 20 years in the making," said Walter Costlow, former chairman of the South Fork society. "The birthplace of the 1889 society started in December 1986 at a meeting right here."
The society was formed in the same room that served as a getaway for such captains of industry as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon.
All but abandoned after the 1889 Flood, the clubhouse has been a bar, restaurant and most recently a home for society volunteers to sell souvenirs.
The property transfer required federal legislation, a cumbersome exercise completed in October when President Bush signed the bill.
Credited with getting the bill passed, Murtha on Tuesday termed the national memorial and the planned preservation of the clubhouse and other properties as a tribute to the tenacity of local residents.
"We're immortalizing the efforts after the flood, a community wiped out which came back," he said.
He also praised the South Fork society for this latest preservation effort, he said.
"We concentrated, you worked, you persisted," he told the group.
The society expects to become a volunteer arm for the park service sites, Costlow said. It will become a local chapter of the agency's Volunteers in Parks program.
The nonprofit will work with Newlin and his staff at the park service sites, generating volunteer hours to be used as matching funds for federal grants, Costlow said.