One hundred and nine years ago, on September 11, 1911, a dam built on Freeman Run north of the town of Austin, Potter County, PA, broke. The the ensuing flood caused significant damage to Austin and to the town of Costello further downstream. Seventy-eight people lost their lives during the disaster.
The concrete impoundment dam at Austin was built by the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company in 1909. Almost immediately concerns were raised about the dam’s safety. Cost saving shortcuts in the design, including a draw-off pipe with a wood cap that could not be operated when the water level rose too high, compromised the integrity of the dam. Even before it was filled with water cracks were noticed in the face of the dam. Despite warning signs and the urging of concerned individuals the Bayless Co. did nothing to sure-up the dam, and at this point in history there was no official regulation regarding dam safety in Pennsylvania. Even in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood in 1889 (another severe dam failure disaster), the PA legislature failed to pass new safety laws or regulations. It took the Austin Dam disaster for changes to be made.
The ruins of the dam can be visited today at the Austin Dam Memorial Park, located approximately 20 miles southwest of the museum along Route 872.
These images from our archival collection (LM2018.3) document the aftermath of flood’s destruction.