The term “national treasure” is often bandied about when talking about monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, or the Washington Monument. Is there such a thing as a city treasure, and if so, does Pittsburgh have one?
The Duquesne Incline: a Pittsburgh Treasure
Certainly, there are special buildings and places that are undeniably Pittsburgh like the Block House, the Cathedral of Learning, or The Carnegie. While many cities have historical sites, unique edifices, or memorable museums, Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in the world with a working inclined plane, or incline, making the Duquesne Incline one of the city’s most beloved and recognizable treasures.
And Then There Were Two: Pittsburgh Nearly Loses the Duquesne Incline
At one time Pittsburgh had nearly two dozen inclines scaling the hills throughout the region, but as roads were built and street cars and buses were added, many of the inclines were shuttered until the early 1960s arrived and only two remained: The Monongahela and the Duquesne Inclines. The Duquesne Incline, which overlooks
Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle at the Point, traverses Mt. Washington, which was originally known as Coal Hill. In 1962 the Duquesne Incline, which was privately owned by the Duquesne Inclined Plane Company, was in dire need of repairs, and after 85 years it was closed in order to replace worn parts. When the estimates came in for repairing the incline, the Duquesne Inclined Plane Company decided it was too costly and closed it.
The People of Duquesne Heights Come to the Rescue
The people of Mt. Washington and in particular those living in the Duquesne Heights neighborhood were shocked to learn that they would be losing their beloved incline. Cy Hungerford, the acclaimed Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist, noted the incline’s demise with a cartoon depicting one of the incline cars heading downhill wearing a sad face. Not willing to part with the incline without a fight, a small group of citizens from Duquesne Heights headed by David Miller met with the incline’s owner and struck an agreement with them whereby the neighborhood would raise money to repair the incline and if enough was brought in, the owners would repair it and reopen it.
A Labor of Love Saves the Duquesne Incline
The goal was to raise $15,000, which may seem like an insignificant sum now, but back in 1962, that amount was quite considerable, especially when considering that Duquesne Heights is a small neighborhood composed of common citizens. But these common citizens put forth an uncommon effort. Flyers were produced and distributed by Boy Scouts to every home in the neighborhood. One Dollar Souvenir tickets were sold door-to-door and bake sales and card parties were held. Shares of stock in the Duquesne Inclined Plane Company were sold for $100 each. As the money came in, the men of the neighborhood began to make what minor repairs they could and started to clean and paint the station houses and cars. Remarkably, within six months all the necessary funds were raised, and on July 1, 1963, the Duquesne Incline reopened to a joyous reception from the Duquesne Heights residents who labored so hard to save it and to a jubilant city. Appropriately, Cy Hungerford commemorated the occasion with another cartoon depicting one of the incline cars scaling Mt. Washington bearing a beaming smile.
The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline is Formed
In 1964, the Port Authority of Allegheny County purchased the Duquesne Incline, but since it still was not economically viable, the Port Authority recognized what a treasure the incline is and magnanimously leased the incline to its saviors, the Duquesne Heights residents, for $1 a year. Each year the Port Authority, in turn, returns that dollar as a donation to the Duquesne Incline. In effect, the residents of Duquesne Heights now owned an incline, and from that small group of preservationists, the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline was formed.
The Duquesne Incline Secures its Spot as a City of Pittsburgh Treasure
Since 1964, the Society, a nonprofit, has assumed all the responsibility of operating and maintaining the incline. Not only that, but the Society has transformed the once down-on-its-luck incline into one of the city’s most recognizable symbols and one of Pittsburgh’s most visited attractions. Today, the Duquesne Incline also boasts a museum, gift shop, and an observation deck that provides visitors with one of the most breath-taking views of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle. The incline runs on donations, membership fees, gift shop proceeds, and fares, with only the conductors, operators, and the small maintenance staff drawing a salary. The rest of the daily supervision and work is done by volunteers.
The Duquesne Incline Celebrated the World Over
In 1994, President Bill Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister John Major rode the incline, as have thousand of visitors. The incline has been voted one of the Top-Ten Sites in the World for Viewing a Cityscape by USA Today, and it has been registered with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania, and The National Historical Mechanical & Engineering Landmark. It has also been counted as one of “14 Fabulous Funiculars from Around the Globe” by Mother Nature Network.