A visit to Dubuque would not be complete without a trip on what is reputedly the steepest and shortest scenic railway in the world. The Fenelon Place Elevator is listed in Iowa’s National Register of Historic Places.
Located at 512 Fenelon Place, Dubuque, the Fenelon Place Elevator takes passengers on a 296 foot journey from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place. From its 189 feet elevation you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of the city’s historic business quarter, the mighty Mississippi River and no less than three states.
History of the elevator
The elevator was constructed in 1882 at the behest of former State Senator, Mr. J K Graves. The cable car was designed and built by local engineer John Bell, and was modeled on railways admired by Graves during his travels to Europe and the Alps. The system comprised a wooden building that housed a steam engine boiler and winch mechanism fired by coal. The Swiss-styled cable car was pulled up and down the hill on rails by a rope made of hemp.
The original elevator was built solely for Graves’ private use but it wasn’t long before his neighbors began asking for rides, and thus the public elevator was born.
Tragedy struck in 1884 when the elevator was burned down. It was rebuilt but was destroyed by fire again in 1893. This time, Graves could not afford to rebuild the machine but a group of ten neighbors came to the rescue and formed the Fenelon Place Elevator Company.
In 1893 the elevator was rebuilt yet again, this time with a streetcar motor in place of the steam engine, a turnstile and steel cable instead of hemp rope. A further improvement in the system saw the inclusion of three rails with a bypass in the center which allowed the operation of two counterbalanced cars.
Complete modernization took place in 1977 which saw the 84-year-old original gear drive replaced.
Opening hours and costs
You can pay for a one-way ride or a round trip on the elevator and you pay at the top.
Adults: $1.50 one-way, $3.00 round trip
Children under 5 go free
Bicycle and rider: $2.00
Open 1st April till 30th November
8am to 10pm
Image credit: Hub AA