Early History of the South Fork Dam

  • Neil M. Coleman


The history of the dam is intimately linked to the early transportation system in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia had been the center of commerce on the east coast. The success of the Erie Canal brought New York to prominence, surpassing Philadelphia. Prominent Pennsylvanians wanted an equivalent transportation artery to regain their stature. A great canal system and Portage Railroad were built to connect the rivers, east and west. It was soon realized that dams were needed to supply water during dry seasons to maintain the boat traffic. The South Fork dam was planned to supply water to the canal and waterway west of the Alleghenies. After many years of delays it was finally completed in 1852 and provided good service. However, by the mid-1850’s the canal system and its dams were virtually obsolete because trans-state rail service had been established. The entire system was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1857, but fell into disrepair.


Johnstown flood South Fork Dam 1889 William Morris Neil Coleman Erie Canal Canal commissioners Uldis Kaktins Western reservoir Spillway Excavations 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil M. Coleman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Energy and Earth ResourcesUniversity of Pittsburgh at JohnstownJohnstownUSA

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