Iowa History Daily: On June 5, 1882, the City of Dubuque granted J.K. Graves franchise to build the Fenelon Place Elevator (Fourth Street Elevator). The funicular cable railway rises 41 degrees along 296 ft. of the steepest railroad in the world on a 3’ narrow gauge.
In order to cut his commute time from a blufftop residence and an office below, banker and State Senator J.K. Graves decided a European-inspired incline railway might solve his conundrum. Upon the successful petition of the City Council in June of 1882, Graves contracted local engineer John Bell to design and construct the Fourth Street Elevator.
Initially a private way for Graves to avoid a nap-threatening buggy ride around the bluff, the original coal-fired steam engine pulled a wooden structure winched to a Swiss-style car up and down the track. Operated by a gardener in the employ of Graves, a clamor to catch a ride soon engulfed Dubuque. However, the original elevator burned on July 25, 1882.
After rebuilding, Graves decided to capitalize on the clamor to ride, and opened an iconic Iowa ride up the bluff with a charge of five cents. After serving as a means of public transportation for local people headed to locations on either end of the slope, as well as a treat for Dubuque’s visitors, the elevator burned again in 1893.
Unable to rebuild, Graves granted the right of way to a group of concerned locals who banded together to form the Fenelon Place Elevator Company in order to rebuild. After an inspiring trip to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the group constructed a design featuring a streetcar motor moving a steel cable car along three rails. A fourth bypass rail allowed for the operation of two funicular counterbalanced cars
Originally a group of eleven stockholders, by 1912 C.B. Trewin found himself as the sole proprietor. Having moved next to the track in 1897, Trewin also built garages and made other small improvements. For decades, riders still gladly paid the five cents a ride for the joy of experiencing the Fenelon Place Elevator. After a 1962 fire, repairs forced the price up to ten cents.