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Dubuque, Iowa:
The Fenelon Place Elevator

Description and History

The Fenelon Place Elevator, which has been called "the world's steepest, shortest scenic railway," climbs the Mississippi River bluff at the end of Fourth Street near downtown Dubuque. (It has also been known as the Fourth Street Elevator.) It has a length of 296 feet (90 m) and a vertical elevation of 189 feet (57.6 m). It is a funicular: a cable-driven railway powered by an engine in the upper station. The two cars always leave the upper and lower stations simultaneously, and pass at the midpoint of the track. They counterbalance each other so that the engine needs to supply only enough power to overcome friction and the different weights of the passengers in the cars. In the United States, larger funiculars operate in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The first funicular on this site was built in 1882 by banker J. K. Graves for his personal use, to ease the commute between his house on top of the bluff and his bank in downtown Dubuque. After it burned in 1884, he rebuilt it, opened it to the public, and started to charge fares. When it burned again in 1893, he was having financial difficulties, so some of his neighbors formed the Fenelon Place Elevator Company, acquired the franchise, and rebuilt it in his place.

As the original owners died or moved away, C. B. Trewin bought up their stock, and by 1912 was the sole owner. The Elevator has been owned and operated by his family ever since. It now anchors a shopping district called Cable Car Square, around the nearby intersection of 4th and Bluff Streets.

Another elevator operated at Eleventh Street from 1887 to 1929.

Other Sites

Pictures

[picture] A full-length view of the Elevator, looking up Fourth Street.

[picture #1] | [picture #2] Two telephoto views of the upper station from below, at different angles.

[picture] Front view of the lower station.

[picture] Side view of the lower station with a car approaching.

[picture] The lower station is unstaffed. These instructions tell passengers what to do.

[picture] Interior of the lower station. The bell cord in front of the car door is for signaling the operator at the upper station.

[picture] Interior of a car. The seats are rather basic, but one doesn't have to sit in them for very long!

[picture] Looking out the upper end of a car towards the upper station as we are about to pass the other car.

[picture] Two cars pass at the midpoint of the track, in a view from the upper station.

[picture] Side view of the upper station, showing part of the view of downtown Dubuque.

[picture] View of the Mississippi River and the Julien Dubuque Bridge.

[picture] Rear view of the upper station, looking down Fenelon Place.

[picture] An almost-empty car approaches the upper station.

[picture] A few minutes later, the car is about to leave with a full load for the downward trip.


This page was last updated on 15 May 2005, and reviewed on 24 January 2008.


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