Given my fear of heights, you can probably guess that the conveyance climbing up and down the steep hill in this photo is pretty close to the last thing I’d board even once, let alone on a regular basis. Luckily, in the industrial age that made this city, most people didn’t share my high anxiety, as Pittsburgh had 23 of these transporting passengers to and from work.
Today, only two of these inclines continue to operate in the Smoky City (a term that itself no longer applies): the Monongahela (built in 1870, but still the world’s steepest) and the one in this picture I took at the start of last month, the Duquesne Incline.
I snapped this shot across the way from the incline, in Fort Pitt Park. When the inclined opened, back in 1877, the neighborhood it served was Coal Hill; today, as Mount Washington, it’s one of the most beautiful—and upscale—areas of the city.
The incline was operated until 1962 by The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company. Since its restoration the following year, it’s been under the management of the Society for the Preservation of The Duquesne Heights Incline, while being owned by the Port Authority of Allegheny County. Some see it as a working commuter facility; others, as a picturesque tourist attraction. Whatever the case, it demonstrates the continuing power and allure of a past often taken for granted in this country.