Get ready to party

City starts planning on big bicentennial bash


Cambria Iron Works solicitor Cyrus Elder addressed the crowd at the Johnstown centennial in 1900, and he prophesied a time when steel wouldn’t be the dominant industry in the city and coal would be replaced by other energy sources. A century later, Elder has proven to be uncannily accurate. That’s the vision planners for the bicentennial want to harness: Looking to the past with an eye on the future. "It's really intriguing how accurate his vision turned out to be 100 years later," said Ron Carnevali, chairman of the city’s bicentennial steering committee. ‘One of the challenges for us will be to identify the visionaries in the community today." The steering committee, an extension of Johnstown Area Heritage Association, is in the early stages of planning for the yearlong bicentennial celebration. It will hold its second meeting Wednesday. On Nov. 3, 1800, Northern Somerset County farmer Joseph Johns founded the town at the confluence of the Stonycreek and Conemaugh rivers that he called Conemaugh Old Town. Some of Johns’ original plans for the city remain today, including recreation at the point and the layout of the streets. When he founded the settlement, Johns hoped it would become the seat of a county that was being detached from Somerset. He even set aside ground for a courthouse at what is now Central Park. Frustrated by Ebensburg being selected as the county seat and slow growth of Old Conemaugh Town, Johns gave up on his settlement and returned to the Davidsville area in 1807. He died 1813. In 1830, the Pennsylvania Canal turned the backwoods trading center that townsfolk had started calling Johnstown into a prosperous port city whose steel mills soon forged a nation. In planning for the 200th anniversary, organizers say they’ll look to the centennial celebration for ideas. A large parade. speeches and special exhibits highlighted the centennial. It’s not only a chance to celebrate the heritage of our community, but to envision what Johnstown in its third century is going to be, said Richard Burkert, executive director of Johnstown Area Heritage Association. "It gives people an opportunity to think about the community, its history. its future, Falling as it does on the millennium, this is an interesting time for Johnstown," Organizers are planning four main events, centering on Memorial Day, July 4. Labor Day and Johnstown’s birthday, Nov. 3. Burkert said planners want to tap and
expand existing events, such as FolkFest during the Memorial Day weekend. The heritage association is trying to secure corporate sponsors for bicentennial events. As a legacy, planners want to use the bicentennial to improve and beautify neighborhoods throughout the city. Mayor Don Zucco has proposed erecting a monument commemorating the celebration. "We would like it to be a significant event, a yearlong celebration in Johnstown," Carnevali said, "I think what it’ll be is something that every body who has any connection to Johnstown will have an interest in. It could be a tremendous homecoming part -reunion, part pep rally." Blacksburg, Va., celebrated its bicentennial last year. Assistant Johnstown City Manager Scott Demharter was staff assistant to the Blacksburg town manager and acting bicentennial coordinator at the time. Demharter, who started in Johnstown last month and is the city’s liaison on the bicentennial steering committee, said planning is the key. Blacksburg spent four years organizing its bicentennial. "The first thing I told them was it is important to get the ball rolling on this," he said in an interview at City Hall, "We definitely need to start getting PR going and create a logo people can identify with that we can put on letterhead and merchandise." Blacksburg had monthly bicen -tennial activities, culminating with a celebration around July 4. Through planning and a heavy reliance on volunteers, Blacksburg orchestrated its bicentennial at little cost, Demharter said. He did not have exact figures of what Blacksburg paid for the celebration. "Blacksburg pulled its bicentennial off without a hitch," he said. "It was really better than what they anticipated," Somerset County celebrated its bicentennial two years ago. To raise money for what seemed like weekly parades and activities, its bicentennial committee sold cups, T-shirts, sweatshirts and other commemorative merchandise bearing a bicentennial logo. "It’s time for them (Johnstown) to get going," Somerset County Com- missioner Robert Will said. "When we got into it, about a year away, we were told we ought to have been planning this two years earlier. It takes a lot of work to put it all together." An estimated 650,000 people attended festivities at Johnstown’s last huge celebration, to commemorate the centennial of the 1889 flood. Burkert said he envisions more to come to the bicentennial, "easily." "We’ve learned a lot since the flood centennial," he said. "These events are much more sophisticated than they were 10 years ago."
Used with permission of The Tribune-Democrat
The Tribune-Democrat, July 11, 1999

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