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10.25.2015

Conemaugh Dam and Tunnelview Historic Site, Indiana County, PA

We decided to drive around for a while, as we usually do on weekends, despite the dreary weather. We stumbled upon the Conemaugh River Lake and the Tunnelview Historic Site of Indiana County. Here is the massive Conemaugh Dam. 
The Conemaugh Dam was erected as a flood control measure after the devastating St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936 in Western Pennsylvania. Kinzua, Youghiogheny, Loyalhanna, Conemaugh, Crooked Creek, Mahoning Creek. Tionesta Lake, and Tygert Lake Dams were all built under the Flood Control Act of 1938, many of which also provide recreational opportunities in addition to their flood control and navigational purposes.
So the dam is pretty neat thing to see by itself, but we decided to continue on the road through the recreation area and go into the adjacent Tunnelview Historic Site. The people in Indiana County do an excellent job preserving and opening up access to areas of navigational and industrial history, as well as taking care of scenic areas, as seen in the county's Buttermilk Falls Park, southeast of Tunnelview. Indiana County does an exceptional job recognizing their heritage and creating public places for the community to enjoy. 

The area we are entering is known as Bow Ridge, a particularly treacherous section of the Conemaugh River. Here you can see two generations of railroad heritage, with the upper bridge being built in 1952 and the lower stone arch bridge being built in 1907.
This marker on the old stone bridge depicts where the floodwaters reached during the devastating floods of 1936. These floods rose 22 feet above the former town of Livermore, which was located in what is now part of the Conemaugh River Lake
The end of the old stone arch bridge leads into the Bow Ridge Tunnel. Here is the east portal of the tunnel. This tunnel was closed when the dam was built, and then sealed in order to ensure that the river valley remained sealed off to stave off potential floods.
We need to get back to do some exploration around this area. You can see the bridge piers from the 1867 alignment of the West Penn Railroad. A tunnel is mostly buried on the end of the old bridge piers. The 1907 alignment utilized the existing stone arch bridge, used for vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and the 1952 alignment runs on the steel bridge that we showed earlier. The fabled Western Division of the Main Line Canal also ran through this area, though it is fully submerged with water now. That tunnel was the third built in the history of the United States and was part of a system that linked Philadelphia and Pittsburgh by a mix of rail and canal. The eastern end of that canal portion started with water flow from the lake that would eventually fail in the horrific Johnstown Flood of 1889. The canal ended in Pittsburgh with a giant bridge across the Allegheny into Downtown Pittsburgh. The Tunnelview Historic Park has one of the few remaining right-of-way remnants of the Western Divison canal that went out of use in 1865. We will be sure to get back to do some more exploration at this place that is rich with transportation history.
Here is the location of the Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area and the Tunnelview Historic Area is adjacent. As you can see, the West Penn Trail, a beautiful trail, runs through the area.
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