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Johnstown: A Diamond in the Rough

During our neighborhood trick or treat last year, I had the pleasure of meeting my new neighbors across the street in Southmont when my husband and I wandered over to introduce ourselves. We noticed they had Florida license plates and were curious to hear the story of what brought them to Johnstown. Josh and Alyssa moved to our lovely city without knowing a soul or having family nearby. As a lifelong resident myself, I couldn’t wait to hear why they chose to move here from sunny Florida. Here’s their story of love and new adventure as told by Josh:

Johnstown. Call it what you want, but when we say it’s a diamond in the rough, we think that statement carries way more meaning than just an overused cliché.

Alyssa and I moved here with our boxer, Kano in 2019. Before moving into a little house that we rented on Mary Drive in Westmont, we had been lifelong residents of various cities in Florida. Our circumstances gave us the opportunity to look for a new home in the northeast and we could have chosen anywhere west of Ohio, north of Virginia and south of Maine.

Many new people we meet here ask, “Why did you move to Johnstown, and from Florida!?” sounding incredulous. We just smile, laugh, and look at each other with a knowing glance. Our answer to this repeated question is, “Johnstown is incredibly beautiful. We are so grateful to be here.”

Why did we pick Johnstown? Our initial impressions and the experiences here have not changed our mind about our decision, but instead make us feel like absolute geniuses for choosing this wonderful place.

When looking for a new place to move, away from friends, family and a support network, it can be very difficult to check all the boxes. Our boxes were simplistic and practical. We needed to be able to afford our new life. We wanted to stay away from big cities. We needed to feel safe. After that, anything else would be a bonus.

I drive a truck for a company in the northeast and we decided to put everything in Florida in storage, take only what we needed, and go look for a house closer to my work. After months of searching, we finally settled on Indiana, PA on the advice of a friend. A deal on a home in Indiana fell through and there was nothing else available for us. We regrouped and expanded our search area. That’s when Johnstown came on our radar. We found a beautiful home on Mary Drive. The owners were kind and quick to get our lease together.

We were moving to Johnstown, a city we had never heard of, and the only people we knew were 45 minutes away. 

Driving to our newly rented house, we were in tears. On our drive from Somerset, where I parked my truck and had a rental car ready, we experienced an exquisite sensation of rightness.

As we passed beautiful rolling hills, we saw mothers pushing strollers on sidewalks in neighborhoods with chipmunks and birds everywhere. People walking their dogs or chatting on corners. What struck me most is seeing 6 kids’ bicycles out on a green lawn, and every few seconds a child’s head would appear above the fence line in the back. Kids were visiting and trampolining with their friends while their bikes were out front, not locked, unattended.

Later that night, after signing the lease, we closed the door and sat down for a meal on our new living room floor. We only had a mattress from my truck’s sleeper and the clothes on our backs, yet we were happier than we had ever been. It wasn’t easy, but Johnstown had so much to offer us, even when we didn’t ask.

The chicken wings from Carrie’s Kitchen downtown were so good we swear they are the best we’ve ever had, even to this day 2 years later. The walks in Westmont, Stackhouse Park, down Luzerne street and so many other places offered beauty and peace effortlessly, revitalizing our spirits even on the toughest days. Our family doctor recognized us and said hello when we ran into each other at the farmers market and craft fair. So did our neighbors to the left and so did our neighbors to the right! Everyone we met was so kind and helpful.

We made incredible memories visiting the Bedford Fall Foliage Festival. We remembered and mourned at the Flight 93 Memorial. We had delicious Valentine’s Day, anniversaries and date nights at Asiago’s or The Boulevard Grill. We went up and down the mountainside countless times on our own, or with visiting family on the worlds steepest inclined plane. We talked to retired neighbors about the last flood, and their careers working at the steel factories and foundries. The history of this city is unreal.  

In 2020, we discovered we were pregnant and celebrated with ice cream in Ligonier after eating delivery from our new favorite pizza place, Pizza Man! We quarantined and had hollered conversations with people in our neighborhood, us checking on them or vice versa – because we all meant something to one another. Community means something here. We welcomed our son Roman at Conemaugh Hospital on Thanksgiving Day with a skeleton crew of the best healthcare workers. 

Johnstown is a diamond in the rough. Did you know we can create diamonds even stronger than what nature can create? This diamond has been made through the immense pressure of disaster and rebirth. Countless families have grown up with and contributed to its beauty even after all seemed hopeless. It has overcome more than just natural disaster. The industry that laid the foundation it was built upon is all but lost. Yet, Johnstown still thrives and never counts itself out of the game. Diamonds are valuable, especially the unbreakable ones. We are truly grateful to be here, reaping the benefits of the hard work of unbreakable people. We will also work hard in our turn. As our little family grows, we hope to watch Johnstown grow with us.

Respectfully, Josh, Alyssa and Roman Gaylord

(with Kano the boxer and Hobbes the cat)