Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center
201 Sixth Ave, Johnstown, PA 15906
An interactive museum and children's museum featuring historical exhibits related to the town of Johnstown, PA.
An impressive and unique museum experience for all ages!
The Heritage Discovery Center is a three-floor museum in downtown Johnstown in western Pennsylvania. You may not think that a museum in a small town has much to offer, but you’d be wrong. Johnstown is famous for its tragic 1889 flood in which more than 2,000 people were killed after a local dam failed. After the flood, the town rebuilt and has since become a charming small town with a surprising amount to offer for visitors.
The Discovery Center offers a plethora of fascinating features for visitors including a children’s museum, a local museum that covers the history and people of the town, the Iron and Steel gallery, and an exhibit entitled America: Through Immigrant Eyes.
We started our visit on the third floor of the Discovery Center, which houses the children’s museum, and we couldn’t have been more impressed. Even with some of the areas closed due to covid-19, our 6 and 8-year-old companions played for hours (and still weren’t ready to leave when it was time to go!). The museum strikes a perfect combination of old school dramatic play activities, technology, and well-designed activities that will engage young minds.
Little ones can construct mountainside towns, try their hand at building a dam (complete with a flood of water to hold back), use their paychecks in the general store and then head to a large kitchen area to make dinner, work in a coal mine and steel mill, and more. Honestly, the adults in our party were just as impressed with the exhibits as the kids.
The museum has gone to painstaking measures to make sure that families can still safely enjoy the museum, even during Covid-19. The museum is restricted to 20 people (or four families) and each exhibit is closed for 10 minutes of each hour for cleaning. Items that can’t be cleaned have been removed or are rotated out and placed on “quarantine” for a period before being returned. The museum offers several distinct sections, making it easy for families to socially distance themselves from each other while in the museum.
We highly recommend this museum for children ages 3 and older. Based on the fun that our almost 9-year-old had, it is also likely that kids up to the age of 10 or so may enjoy the exhibits as well.
After the children’s museum, we made our way down to the first floor to check out America: Through Immigrant Eyes. I have to say, this was one of the most unique (and fun) museums I have been through in recent memory.
Visitors begin by choosing a “passport” that features a real person who immigrated to Johnstown during the 19th century. Then, you are immersed in your character’s story as you experience the museum as though you are traveling as your character, from leaving your homeland, to Ellis Island, to the Johnstown train station and, finally, 19th century Johnstown.
Throughout the museum, there are interactive screens in which you scan your passport. An actor on a video will then address you, as your character, to tell you where to go to find work, where to live, and more. You’ll also be able to visit the buildings that would have existed in 19th century Johnstown including the butcher, a church, the coal mine, and more.
Our 8-year-old loved this exhibit and even our 6-year-old was able to enjoy this portion of the discovery center. Children younger than 5 or so may not be as interested, though.
The discovery center also features a 35-minute movie all about the Iron and Steel industry in the area. We were told that it is also kid-friendly and that children tend to enjoy it. Unfortunately, we were so tuckered out after everything we had already done that we weren’t able to see it.
There are bathrooms with changing tables available, as well. No food or drink is allowed so be sure to eat a snack before you go in! One of the great parts about the Discovery Center is that you get access to all of the areas with one admission fee. For visitors with older children, you can also obtain a discounted entry ticket to the Johnstown Flood Museum which is located just a few minutes’ drive from the Discovery Center. It’s a great spot to learn more about the 1889 flood.
The Discovery Center holds so much for kids of all ages, it’s an absolute must-see if you’re in the area.