Happy 150th Birthday Monongahela Incline!

Monongahela Incline c. 1882. The Monongahela Incline opened on May 28, 1870 when more than 900 riders took a ride on Pittsburgh’s first passenger incline. By 1897 the Monongahela Incline was carrying about 1.6 million passengers a year.

On May 28, 1870, exactly one hundred and fifty years ago, the Monongahela Incline began carrying people between South Carson Street, close to the Monongahela river and the Monongahela Suspension Bridge (where the Smithfield Street Bridge is today), and the top of Mount Washington on Grandview Avenue. It was the first of many inclines to open up hilltop land to housing development.

A Pittsburgh landmark was born on May 28, 1870 due in large part to a set of remarkable people, most notably the engineers behind its design and construction. John J. Endres, an engineer living in Cincinnati at the time, was contracted to design the Monongahela Incline. When construction started August 1769 it was Endres’ daughter and assistant Caroline who moved into the Monongahela House hotel and carried out day-to-day supervision.  Mystery surrounds John Endres and Caroline since available data suggest that Caroline could not have been John’s biological daughter. Also, during the mid-nineteenth century a woman didn’t have access to an engineering degree and women were uncommon as supervising engineers. So far, I’ve been unable to find documents (letters, business records, etc.) that shed light on these matters.

What we do know is that John Endres’ business partner Samuel Diescher married Caroline shortly after she returned to Cincinnati from Pittsburgh. The newly wed couple moved to Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington where Samuel Diescher became a prominent engineer and designed many more inclines including at least 10 more in Pittsburgh.

Rare Peek at Duquesne Incline’s First Lower Station

The old Duquesne Incline lower station on West Carson Street, c. 1900. Detail from the image on pages 44 and 45 of “Pittsburgh’s Inclines”. Image courtesy of Historic Pittsburgh, the Digital Research Library at the University of Pittsburgh.

Under the original Point Bridge (1877-1923) that spanned the Monongahela River, is a one-story wood-frame building with an extended roof line where incline cars entered and exited on the tracks that ascended from the building to the upper station in Duquesne Heights.

Come and ride the Duquesne Incline on Saturday, August 18th and drop by the upper station between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and say hello. I’ll be talking about Pittsburgh’s inclines and signing my new book (available at Duquesne Incline’s gift shop). I hope to see you there!

When Steam Engines Powered the Monongahela Incline

Figure 1. Monongahela Incline upper station on Grandview Avenue, June 24, 1908. The twenty-two foot high iron truss spanning Grandview Avenue at the center of this image fed two cables from the boiler and steam engine house (at right, with the two stacks) into two holes (portals) in the incline’s upper station at left. Those were the very cables that were each attached to an incline car. One pulled a car up the hill while the other let a car down. Detail from the image on page 33 of “Pittsburgh’s Inclines”. Image courtesy of Historic Pittsburgh, the Digital Research Library at the University of Pittsburgh.

All of Pittsburgh’s inclines were originally powered by steam engines. Figure 1 above shows the Monongahela Incline’s upper station in 1908 more than 25 years before electric motors replaced its steam engines. Tap or click on the image and zoom in to see details of the two steel cables that passed over a wheel set about 22 feet above Grandview Avenue between the steam engine house at right and the upper incline building at left.

Those of you in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania tomorrow Sunday, July 1st please drop by Classic Lines between 2:30 and 3:30p.m. for “Pittsburgh’s Inclines” discussion and book signing. I hope to see you there!