Fourth Street Elevator

Fourth Street Elevator

The Fourth Street Elevator is a funicular railway located in Dubuque, Iowa. Also known as the Fenelon Place Elevator, it is claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world (although several other funiculars also make this claim). It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Location

The Fourth Street Elevator is located at 512 Fenelon Place, Dubuque, Iowa. The entrance is located at the western end of Fourth Street in Dubuque.

At the top there are two observation decks. These decks offer a commanding view of the downtown Dubuque area. Three states can be seen from the observation decks - Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Function

The funicular is 296 feet (90 m) long, with a vertical elevation of 189 feet (58 m). The two cars start at opposite ends, passing each other at the mid-point of the elevator. The two cars counterbalance each other, drawing motive power from an engine in the station house at the top of the hill. The engine only needs to overcome inertia and friction and compensate for the varying weight of the passengers in the cars.

The Fourth Street Elevator is run from April 1st to November 30th. The hours are from 8 am to 10 pm. The web site lists the current [http://www.dbq.com/fenplco/prices.html rates] .

History

The original Fourth Street Elevator

In 1882, Dubuque was an "hour and a half town" in that everything shut down in town for that amount of time during the lunch hour. J.K. Graves, an area banker who was a former mayor and state senator, lived at the top of the bluffs. His office, however, was at the bottom. He would go home during the lunch hour, however the trip would take at least half an hour. He liked to eat then take a brief nap, but as he only had 30 minutes he found doing both impossible.

So he came up with the idea of building a railroad from the bottom to the top of the bluff. He approached the city for permission to build an elevator, which was granted. Graves hired John Bell, a local engineer, who built a funicular railway modeled on those in the Swiss Alps. Originally, the cable car, which was built for Mr. Graves' private use, was in a plain wood building, with a coal-fired steam engine boiler and winch. A Swiss style car was lowered up and down on two rails by a hemp rope.

The cable car operated for the first time on July 25, 1882. Graves would have his gardener let him down in the morning, pull him back up at lunchtime, let him back down after lunch and a nap, and finally pull him back up at the end of the day. Soon neighbors began asking Graves for rides.

The second Fourth Street Elevator

On July 19 1884, the boiler exploded, and the Elevator burned. Graves rebuilt it. Because it was popular with the neighbors, Graves decided to open it to the public, and charge admission for rides. The Elevator operated for the next several years.

The present Elevator

In 1893 the Elevator burned again. This time, with a recession going on, Graves couldn't afford to rebuild it again. However, his neighbors had come to depend on it to help them go to work, church, school, and shopping.

A group of ten neighbors banded together and formed the Fenelon Place Elevator Company. Graves gave them the franchise right of way for the track. The group went to the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois to look for new ideas. The group brought a streetcar motor to run the elevator, the turnstile, and steel cables back with them. They decided to use steel cables because when the elevator had burned in the past, the fire had burned through the hemp ropes. This caused the car to fall and crash into the little house at the bottom, destroying both.

C.B. Trewin, who lived near the Elevator, eventually became the sole stockholder. He did this by purchasing up the stock of the others as they died or moved away. Trewin expanded the operator's house by adding garages on both sides of it. He also built a second-floor apartment, which became a meeting place for neighborhood men so that they could smoke and play cards away from their wives.

As the automobile gained in popularity, the Elevator became much less of a daily necessity for neighbors, and instead became a unique part of the city. In 1962, there was another fire. However, this only damaged part of the operator's house. After repairs, the price finally went up to ten cents a ride.

Another funicular similar to the Fourth Street Elevator was operated at 11th Street for a number of years. However, this was never as popular or as successful as the one at 4th Street, and it was eventually dismantled.

The Fourth Street Elevator underwent major renovations in 1977. The two cars were completely rebuilt. Also the original gear box, which was 84 years old, was replaced by a modern DC gear box.

The movie "F.I.S.T.", which starred Sylvester Stallone and was largely filmed in Dubuque, included a scene that was filmed at the Elevator.

External links

* [http://www.dbq.com/fenplco Fenelon Place Elevator Company Website]


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