My family and I moved from Johnstown to Cleveland, Ohio in 1942. I was ten years old at the time. To this date, I have still not gotten used to this area. My heart stayed in Johnstown. It is my hometown and I love it and its people. I can't believe that a small town like Johnstown has such a superb web page.
Around 1996 or thereabouts, The Plain Dealer (Clevelands only newspaper) published a terrific little piece about Johnstown entitled:
Its a city where
People don't move from their
homes in Johnstown, Pa.
By SANDY BANISKY
In a nation of movers, a country filled with people who routinely pack up the moving van and start over someplace new, this old industrial city stands proudly apart.
Despite the collapse of the steel industry, the closing of the coal mines and the terror of those legendary floods, Johnstown leads the nation in the percentage of citizens who’ve lived in the same house for 30 years or more.
Not just the same town. The same house. Since the Eisenhower administration.
“Even during the hard times, people opted to stick it out and stay here,” said William Findley, who compiles unemployrnent data for the Pennsylvania Labor department’s Bureau of Research and Statistics in, Johnstown. “They’re tenacious."
He’s a statistic himself: He’s 53 and has lived in the same house for 35 years.
Nationally, the 1990 U.S. Census found only 8 percent of Americans have lived in the same house since at least 1959. In Johnstown, a city of about 28,000 set on the Conemaugh River, 23.5 percent of the citizens reported that kind of stability.
Why do Johnstowners stay put? The beauty of the steep blue-green Allegheny Mountains, residents say. The small- town friendliness. The low crime rate. The unhurried pace.
“They were born here. They decided to stay here. The quality of life is here,” said Michelle Hornick, marketing director of Johnstown’s Chamber of Commerce. “It’s as simple as that.”
“It’s that four-letter word: Home,” said Bill Felix, who spent 19 years working in banking from Singapore to Los Angeles before returning to Johnstown 23 years ago to open the Candy Store on Market Street.
And why the same house? Strong family ties rooted in ethnic traditions, people say. Children living in the same house they grew up in, then staying to care for elderly parents and eventually taking over the homestead themselves. And in families where children move away, retirees don’t bother moving to a smaller home.
Several other regions in Pennsylvania or bordering on it also boast high percentages of what the census bureau calls “stayers” — as opposed to “movers.”
Gordon De Jong, a sociology professor who directs Penrisylvania State University’s graduate program in demographics, said all those regions share certain characteristics:
They tend to be older, industrial regions whose economies suffered over the last two decades, De Jong said. Their young people tend to move out in search of jobs. Their older people tend to stay.
Surrounding townships boast gracious turn-of-the-century homes, originally built for steel company executives, and bright new developments built to provide houses for suburban families. In old Johnstown, however, the homes tend to be two-story wood frame houses that march up the hillsides from the downtown river shore.
The region has its problems. Johnstown’s unemployment rate is higher than the state average and the average income is lower.
The steel industry’s consolidation has meant that some residents now work at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant during the week and go back to their long-held Johnstown homes on weekends. The area is shrinking as the birth rate falls and it fails to attract enough new residents to balance the loss of the younger generation.
That doesn’t mean Johnstown is an unattractive place to live, De Jong said. “If you look at things like quality of life, those factors would rank very high in Johnstown. What you often get in places like this is a maximization of aspects of life that revolve around community.”
Louis B. Thomas, Cleveland, Ohio