The Duquesne Incline
The hills around Pittsburgh were once lined with inclines, also known as inclined planes or funiculars, of various sizes and shapes. These were, in many cases, the most convenient way to get from the top of the surrounding hills to the city flats below, and then back up again. There were inclines for pedestrian traffic, wagons and vehicles, and some larger ones for coal and heavy freight.
The Duquesne Incline, which opened on May 20, 1877, scales the slopes of Coal Hill, more commonly known as Mount Washington, from a lower boarding station located along Carson Street to an upper platform on Grandview Avenue in Duquesne Heights.
Designed by Samuel Deischer, the incline was built on property formerly occupied by the Kirk-Lewis Coal Lift. Construction was financed with Duquesne Inclined Plane Company stock certificates totalling $47,000. The track, gauged at an unusual five feet, is 800 feet long, 400 feet in height, and is inclined at a 30-degree angle.
The original passenger cars were in use from 1877 to 1889. These were then replaced with the cars that are, remarkably, still in use today. Built by the J. G. Brill Company in Philadelphia, the interior of each incline car is very ornate, with hand-carved cherry panels trimmed with oak and birdseye maple.
The Duquesne Incline gave the workers of the growing hilltop community of Union Borough, later renamed Duquesne Heights, easy access to downtown Pittsburgh, where employers like Andrew Carnegie’s Painter’s Steel Mill, the Clinton Iron Furnace and other industries stood on the southern shore of the Monongahela River.
Prior to the opening of the incline, the workers often walked a mile long path along the Mount Washington hillside called the Indian Trail. In 1909 the city constructed the “Indian Trail Steps” along that route. These steps were, for many years, a valuable alternative for factory workers who could not afford the five cent fare to ride the incline.
The Duquesne Incline’s power system was renovated in 1932, with the steam engine removed and replaced by an electrical system. Forty years later, in 1972, the electrical equipment was upgraded. The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company was in operation from 1877 until 1962, when it was force to close due to financial hardship.
The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline was established to help preserve the historic structure. The incline reopened for business on July 1, 1963. The Society worked diligently to carefully restore and then continually maintain the Duquesne Incline, keeping the vintage funicular in as close to its original condition as possible.
Today, both the Duquesne Incline and the nearby Monongahela Incline, also located along Grandview Avenue in Mount Washington, are the only two 19th century inclines remaining in the city of Pittsburgh. They serve as working historic landmarks that continue to fill their original purpose of providing daily transportation to commuters traveling to and from downtown Pittsburgh, just as they did over 140 years ago.
In addition to serving their purpose as a valuable part of the Pittsburgh commuter system, the city's vintage inclines have become major tourist attractions, bringing people from around the world to see the spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh and the three rivers. A ride on the Duquesne Incline is one that anyone with an admiration for a unique blend of historic architecture and the magnificent beauty of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle will never forget.
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