Pittsburgh History with Ginny: Incline Love UPDATED

Scroll to the bottom for photos of the Knoxville Incline’s curve.


I’ve become a bit obsessed with learning about Pittsburgh’s inclines lately. No clue why and I think we’ve discussed this, but I don’t choose my obsessions; they choose me.

Recent obsessions, while we’re discussing them:

— Made for TV Christmas romance movies.

— YouTube videos of funny news reports in Australia, just so I can listen to the accents.

YouTube Preview Image

— Adam Levine.

But back to the inclines.

I’d like to ride an incline with Adam Levine.

Is that a euphemism? I’M NOT TELLING.

But, as I was saying …  BACK TO THE INCLINES.

Pittsburgh has two very famous inclines, but did you know Pittsburgh used to have dozens of inclines?

This little search over at the Pitt archive will bring you pictures of some of those lost inclines like …

Mt. Oliver Incline:

This view is taken from the top of the incline from the station and engine house located on Washington/Warrington Avenue opposite Mount Oliver Street looking to the South Side. The incline ran from 1872 – 1951. Its last day of operation was July 7, 1951.

 The Knoxville Incline:

View of the base of the Knoxville Incline looking from Bradford Street between South 11th Street and South 12th Street to a point at the junction of Brownsville Road. This incline boasted a total length of a 1/2 Mile, rising 370 Vertical Feet, and rising to a 14% Grade. The incline was a double-track railway of nine foot gaughe, 60 pound rails laid on wooden ties which rested on ballad or steel girders. Each car weighed about 10 tons and was specially designed to carry street cars and other vehicles. A special enclosed and heated compartment was provided for passengers. The Knoxville Incline opened in 1890 and closed in 1960.

Here’s the Monongahela Incline in a smoky 1900:

The Monongahela Incline, opened on May 28, 1870, was the first incline constructed in Pittsburgh. The incline, one of seventeen inclines in Pittsburgh at one time, climbs a 35 percent grade, one of the steepest incline planes in the world.

Note the two sets of tracks. One was for freight, but was eventually removed.

Here’s five men working on the Monongahela Incline supports in 1926:

Hi, fellas! Hope your great-grandkids are proud of you.

Castle Shannon Incline in 1964:

View of the west elevation of the Castle Shannon Incline car showing the ailing condition of incline before it was demolished at East Carson Street near Arlington Avenue to Bailey.

Wouldn’t set a toe on that thing if it was the only way out of pigeon hell.

Penn Incline in 1935:

The Penn Incline terminating in the Strip District (background). The Sixteenth Street Bridge is in the far left background. The Penn Incline, also called the 17th Street Incline, began operating in 1883 and handled 20-ton coal freight cars. It ceased operation in 1953.

Here’s the view on Liberty:


Teenie Harris snapped this around 1945. Burghers riding the Penn Incline down. Wonder who they are and where they’re going:

If this post has piqued your interest, you’ll find even more about our lost inclines here. 


Knoxville Incline Curve:

The Knoxville Incline was built in 1890 and was located in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. The incline was designed with an 18-degree curve and had the longest track ever built in Pittsburgh at 2,644 feet. It was the second incline in Pittsburgh with a curved track.


  1. Butcher's Dog
    December 6, 2012 9:25 am

    Awesome pics! Not too many clear days, though, but part of that could be the age of the photos. But Cincinnati Beer (third incline picture)?!?! Had they no shame? No pride? Good thing we’ve progressed since then.

  2. spoon
    December 6, 2012 9:51 am

    They must have had balls of steel to ride those things back then. Most of the inclines looks like shacks on wheels about to fall

  3. Sara P
    December 6, 2012 12:23 pm

    Two more great incline facts. #1. The original engineer was assisted by his daughter, one of the first (possibly the first) female engineers in Pittsburgh. #2. There was a beer garden at the bottom of at least one of the inclines (I think the infamous St. Clair. That incline had a curve it it!) and the remains of that area is at the bottom near 10th? 11th? street with a cool old general storefront right next to it.

  4. 123Nick
    December 6, 2012 12:44 pm

    Here and I thought Pittsburgh had a monopoly on the word “stabby”. The Aussies use it too – to good effect!

  5. Noelle
    December 6, 2012 3:38 pm

    I mean a bloke’s got to protect his family with his long stabby thing right?

    • LisaB
      December 14, 2012 2:36 pm

      Two questions:
      1) Do jagoffs make the Aussies stabby?
      2) Are the Aussies’ stabby things good for when jagoffs make me stabby?

      I need one of those long stabby Aussies myself.

  6. Pensgirl
    December 6, 2012 5:26 pm

    One of Rick Sebak’s always-excellent shows about Pittsburgh covered the multitude of inclines we used to have (tangent – “Rick taught me that” needs to become a thing, along the lines of “Joe said it would”). I recall him talking about people commuting to the mills from Troy Hill, in particular, though that was far from the only place he mentioned.

  7. G-Man
    December 6, 2012 6:12 pm

    As a youngster I remember riding the Castle Shannon Incline. My grandparents’ best friends lived on Bigby Street just a couple of blocks from the upper station. Looking at that photo scares me now but as a kid it was an adventure. The Penn Incline was shut down before I have memories of it. But when I was 7 years old they began to tear it down and my dad took me down there (lower station) and we took pictures of the parts of the track that were left. To this day I am beyond fascinated with inclines.

  8. Michelle Smiles
    December 6, 2012 8:13 pm

    If you like Australian news clips, here is something you should watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-QNAwUdHUQ Seriously worth 2 minutes.

  9. bucdaddy
    December 6, 2012 11:19 pm

    Your history posts make me so happy, I’m going to reward you with the three best words I saw all day:

    Nutella Hot Chocolate

  10. John
    December 6, 2012 11:34 pm

    this was nice, V, thank you… I grew up in Mahntworshingtin, and there will never be anything like it….dahn here in Florida, they actually have to build hills to have overpasses. The Mon was my daily transportation when I managed Wiener World on Forbes…. and ire way to get home from virtually everything we did as teens and beyond, baseball games, movies, concerts, partyin. I’m feeling so homesick. I even met my first significant other on the Mon, on my way to work, in 82. (Well, not everything about the Mon was good, chuckle.)

  11. WI Mom
    December 7, 2012 10:16 am

    I can remember going to visit my grandmother on the SouthSide and there was an incline track at the bottom of her (very steep) street.
    Ginny- your posts always bring back so many memories to me!

  12. bucdaddy
    December 7, 2012 10:39 am

    Man, the Penn incline track wouldn’t look out of place on the Thunderbolt.


  13. joe
    December 7, 2012 5:39 pm

    Great stuff Ginny, though a bit surprised you didn’t have more fun with the word funicular.

    How many inclines can you find in old drawn prints of the city?

  14. bucdaddy
    December 8, 2012 12:54 am

    That thing looks like a barn on wheels and it must be carrying, like, 150 people.

    I wonder in how many American cities the working class lived on the heights?

  15. Bob Foley
    December 15, 2012 3:55 pm

    Enjoyed that post. Learned something today about Johnstown’s incline. You can take cars and motorcycles on it.