It is characteristic of American hopefulness and energy that before work was fairly begun on clearing away the wreck of the old city, plans were being prepared for the new one that should arise, Phoenix-like, above its grave. If the future policy of the banks and bankers of Johnstown is to be followed by the merchants and manufacturers of the city the prospects of a magnificent city rising from the present ruins are of the brightest. James McMillen, president of the First National and Johnstown Savings Banks, said:
"The loss sustained by the First National Bank will be merely nominal. It did a general commercial business and very little investing in the way of mortgages. When the flood came the cash on hand and all our valuable securities and papers were locked in the safe and were in no way affected by the water. The damage to the building itself will be comparatively small. Our capital was one hundred thousand dollars, while our surplus was upwards of forty thousand dollars. The depositors of this bank are, therefore, not worrying themselves about our ability to meet all demands that may be made upon us by them. The bank will open up for business within a few days as if nothing had happened.
As to the Johnstown Savings Bank it had probably $200,000 invested in mortgages on property in Johnstown, but the wisdom of our policy in the past in making loans has proven of great value to us in the present emergency. Since we first began business we have refused to make loans to parties on property where the lot itself would not be of sufficient value to indemnify us against loss in case of the destruction of the building. If a man owned a lot worth $2,000 and had on it a building worth $100,000 we would refuse to loan over the $2,000 on the property. The result is that the lots on which the buildings stood in Johnstown, on which $200,000 of our money is loaned, are worth double the amount, probably, that we have invested in them.
"What will be the effect of the flood on the value of lots in Johnstown proper? Well, instead of decreasing, they have already advanced in value. This will bring outside capital to Johnstown, and a real estate boom is bound to follow in the wake of this destruction. All the people want is an assurance that the banks are safe and will open up for business at once. With that feeling they have started to work with a vim. We have in this bank $300,000 invested in Government bonds and other securities that can be converted into cash on an hour's notice. We propose to keep these things constantly before our business men as an impetus to rebuilding our principal business blocks as soon as possible."
"What do you think of the idea projected by Captain W. R. Jones, to dredge and lower the river bed about thirty feet and adding seventy per cent. to its present width, as a precautionary measure against future washouts?"
"I not only heartily indorse that scheme, but have positive assurance from other leading business men that the idea will be carried out, as it certainly should be, the moment the work of cleaning away the debris is completed. Besides that, a scheme is on foot to get a charter for the city of Johnstown which will embrace all those surrounding boroughs. In the event of that being done, and I am certain it will be, the plan of the city will be entirely changed and made to correspond with the best laid-out cities in the country. In ten years Johnstown will be one of the prettiest and busiest cities in the world, and nothing can prevent it. The streets will be widened and probably made to start from a common centre, something after the fashion of Washington City, with a little more regard for the value of property. With the Cambria Iron Company, the Gautier Steel Works, and other manufactories, as well as yearly increasing railroad facilities, Johnstown has a start which will grow in a short time to enormous proportions. From a real estate standpoint the flood has been a benefit beyond a doubt. Another addition to the city will be made in the shape of an immense water-main to connect with a magnificent reservoir of the finest water in the world to be located in the mountains up Stony Creek for supplying the entire city as contemplated in the proposed new charter. This plant was well under way when the flood came, and about ten thousand dollars had already been expended on it which has been lost."
Mr. John Roberts, the surviving partner of the banking-house of John Dibert & Company, said:
"Aside from the loss to our own building we have come out whole and entire. We had no money invested in mortgages in Johnstown that is not fully indemnified by the lots themselves. Most of our money is invested in property in Somerset County, where Mr. Dibert was raised. We will exert every influence in our power to place the city on a better footing than was ever before. The plan of raising the city or lowering the bed of the river as well as widening its banks will surely be carried out. In addition, I think the idea of changing the plan of the city and embracing Johnstown and the surrounding buroughs in one large city will be one of the greatest benefits the flood could have wrought to the future citizens of Johnstown and the Conemough Valley.
"I have been chairman of our Finance Committee of Councils for ten years past, and I know the trouble we have had with our streets and alleys and the necessity of a great change. In order to put the city in the proper shape to insure commercial growth and topographical beauty, we will be ready for business in a few days, and enough money will be put into circulation in the valley to give the people encouragement in the work of rebuilding."