The Penn Incline, also known as the 17th Street Incline, was a funicular railroad that ran between the Strip and Hill districts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It operated from 1884 to 1953.

Penn Incline
Penn Incline and resort, c. 1889
Other name(s)17th Street Incline
LocalePittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Coordinates40°26′54″N 79°59′06″W / 40.4484°N 79.9849°W / 40.4484; -79.9849
Operator(s)Penn Incline Plane Co. (1884–1904)
Pittsburgh Railways (1904–1953)
Opened1 March 1884
Closed30 November 1953
Line length840 feet (260 m)
Number of tracks2
Track gauge10 ft (3,048 mm)

Description edit

The incline ascended from 17th Street between Liberty and Penn avenues in the Strip District to Arcena (Ridgeway) Street near Ledlie Street in the Hill District. It measured 840 feet in length with a vertical rise of 330 feet.[1] It was structurally massive, with over 750 tons of bridge work carrying the two 10-foot-gauge tracks over the Pennsylvania Railroad yards, Bigelow Boulevard, and Liberty Avenue. A writer in the Street Railway Journal in 1891 believed that it was "probably the most heavily built plane in existence".[1]

History edit

The incline was built to the design of Samuel Diescher with the aim of hoisting 20-ton coal loads to the top of the hill.[1] It entered service on 1 March 1884.[2] While the coal traffic never materialized to expectations, railroad and business activity in the Strip District generated enough passengers and freight to keep the incline operating. Customers included produce merchants transporting their goods from wholesale markets in the Strip.[3]

A saloon and entertainment hall called the Penn Incline Resort existed for several years next to the upper landing.[4] This resort, patterned after similar hilltop attractions in Cincinnati, was built together with the incline to boost business. It enjoyed early popularity and according to The Pittsburg Dispatch was "a favorite resort for the better class of Germans". With the implementation in 1888 of Pennsylvania's Brooks High License Law, the resort stopped selling liquor and went into decline. The building was destroyed in 1892 by a fire that spread from the incline's boiler house.[5]

In 1927, a stunt driver guided a Willys–Overland Whippet automobile up and down the incline in a promotional spectacle to demonstrate the car's climbing and braking prowess. A plankway specially built for the occasion prevented the car's wheels from lodging between the rail ties.[6]

By the end of World War II, business was struggling. The incline was open only three hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon when its last owner, Pittsburgh Railways, asked the state Public Utilities Commission permission to abandon it. Nobody opposed the request.[3] The incline shut down on 30 November 1953 and within the next three years was dismantled.[4]

There has been talk among city planners of reviving the incline,[7] but no such idea has come to fruition. In 2020, mayor Bill Peduto suggested relinking the Strip and Hill districts with a gondola lift that could also extend to the Oakland neighborhood.[8]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c "The Inclined Planes". The Street Railway Journal Souvenir: 38–39. October 1891.
  2. ^ Diescher, Samuel (June 1897). "American Inclined Plane Railways". Cassier's Magazine. 12 (2): 86–87.
  3. ^ a b Hoover, Bob (11 Jul 1993). "Lost Pittsburgh: The 17th Street (Penn) Incline". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sunday magazine, pp. 4–5.
  4. ^ a b Bothwell, Margaret P. (Oct 1963). "Inclined Planes and People--Some Past and Present Ones". The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine. 46 (4): 336–337.
  5. ^ "Penn Incline Wrecked". The Pittsburg Dispatch. 16 July 1892. p. 2.
  6. ^ Barcousky, Len (27 Dec 2009). "Eyewitness 1927: Stunt Driver Inclined to Test Himself, His Car". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. A-2.
  7. ^ Litvak, Anya (25 Nov 2011). "Pittsburgh's Strip District-Hill District incline part of feasibility study". Pittsburgh Business Times.
  8. ^ Bauder, Bob (27 January 2020). "Peduto pitches gondola connecting the Strip, Hill District, Oakland". TribLIVE. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
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