For generations, Quemahoning Lake was the private property of steel companies first belonging to its developer, the Cambria Steel Company of Johnstown, then to Cambria’s successor, Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Built between 1907 and 1912, the dam was originally 90 feet high and 950 feet long at the top, 70 feet wide at its base, and contained almost 11 billion gallons of water. At the time of its development Quemahoning was the largest impoundment in Pennsylvania. The dam’s spillway was improved with a series of steps in the 1930s, and its height was increased by seven feet in 1961, enabling the dam to store up to 14 billion gallons.
Simultaneous with the dam’s initial construction, a 14-mile pipeline was laid from the dam to the steel mills in Johnstown. This 66-inch-diameter line could deliver up to 80 million gallons of water daily to the mills, which used the water in steelmaking and in the production of steam that once powered much of the mill’s equipment.
Although a dedicated industrial water supply, Quemahoning Reservoir also served a recreational role almost from its beginning. During its early years, a couple of picnic pavilions were located on its shore for use by steel company personnel. Then in the 1940s, Bethlehem Steel developed Bethco Pines, a lakeside resort for supervisory personnel and their families that included swimming pools, a clubhouse and shooting range as well as picnic pavilions. Bethco Pines was utilized until steelmaking activities were curtailed in the early 1980s. Then for a short period of time the Pines operated as a private resort.
In the late 1990s Bethlehem announced that it would be selling its reservoirs and related land-holdings, including the Que. Eager to put the properties into public hands, a coalition of local, state and federal officials worked together to arrange for some type of public purchase. The commissioners of Cambria and Somerset counties formed the Cambria Somerset Authority (CSA), which in 2000 purchased a total of five reservoirs, two pipelines and 5,200 acres of land in the two counties for $6 million. The former Bethco Pines property then seriously deteriorated was leased to a Christian summer camp called “Summer’s Best Two Weeks (SB2W),” which demolished the old structures and developed new ones. In exchange for rent-free use of the land, SB2W has developed and manages the Quemahoning Family Recreation Area for the public’s use.
For More History on the Quemahoning Dam click here and go to page 50. (2.4mb)