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Spirit Mountain’s Alpine Roller Coaster is pretty neat, but the old Duluth Skyride looks a bit more intimidating

Originally called the Incline Plane Railway, this tram system started service in 1891, carrying passengers up Seventh Avenue West from Superior Street to Ninth Street. The photo above makes it look downright terrifying.

And, of course, there was one day in which it was indeed a terrifying ride, though no one was on it.

On May 28, 1901, a fire started in a coal bin in the engine room of the powerhouse. Wind carried the fire to the pavilion at the top of the incline. The heat of the fire melted the tram cables, and a burning trolley raced down to Superior Street, where it crashed into Superior Street Station. No one was injured.

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20 Comments

Jake

about 4 years ago

That is so awesome.

Bret

about 4 years ago

And it did break free once and careening to the bottom. That must have been one hell of a ride.

bfinstad

about 4 years ago

I love the amazing clarity of this old photo. So much detail when you really look closely!

The Big E

about 4 years ago

I find the inability to grab a full hi-res image from Minnesota Reflections kind of irritating, although I imagine it's intentional. That said, they have some amazing photos there. I like this detail from this photo.

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

Here's a detail from the photo above, showing two ladies with some fancy hats preparing to board the incline car.

heysme

about 4 years ago

Please forgive me if this question has been posted before -- was the Incline created as a gimmick? I guess the treacherous hills made it difficult for horse and carriage or autos to navigate up and down but the length was only 9 blocks. Anyone have photos or knowledge of what was up at the top? Maybe like a "Park & Ride"?

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

There were a few people who lived right at the top of the hill, but not a lot. It was real estate developers with land in Duluth Heights that wanted the incline to make travel to/from downtown easier. There weren't a lot of passengers on the incline, so that's when the gimmick came in. The Beacon Hill Pavilion (designed by Oliver Traphagen and Francis Fitzpatrick) was built at the top of the tramway, with restaurants, a dance hall and an auditorium. I think there were even hot-air balloon rides. Let me see if I have a photo of the pavilion somewhere ...

tony d

about 4 years ago

The incline had its original practical use (getting up and down in an era of horses), but those who originally built it also developed a pavilion at the top with a restaurant, dance hall, hot air balloon rides, and other attractions--that is, until it burned. It was never rebuilt. Incline torn down after the last ride on Labor Day, 1939. One of the investors was the same W. K. Rogers who designed Duluth's park system and first envisioned Skyline Parkway (once "Roger's Boulevard"). So the pavilion could be accessed by both the incline and the parkway. By the way, Duluth also had an incline railway in West Duluth that brought folks to Proctor and Bayview Heights. (Big E.: MHS is funded in part by charging a fee to get a hi-res. image of the photos they have, so yes, it's intentional that you cannot download an image of print-quality resolution. They charge $30 which covers the time for someone to burn the image on a disk and mail it to you and usually allows limited usage rights. Very reasonable fee for use when you consider what it takes to maintain a huge digital archive.)

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

I just found a bunch of photos of the incline and pavilion and the aftermath of the fire and the whole storyline that goes with it -- as well as info and images of the Duluth Belt-line Railway -- at Funimag Photoblog. Here's the pavilion (right) and powerhouse (left):

heysme

about 4 years ago

Amazing! Thanks for sharing!

woodtick

about 4 years ago

Decent pic of the crash.

Funimag

about 4 years ago

Yes, you will find the whole story of the Seventh Avenue West Incline and a lot of big photos in my article: (US) Duluth inclines / Les funiculaires de Duluth (Minnesota) I spent many many days to collect and restore all these documents. I hope you'll appreciate the article. Concerning Duluth Belt Line Incline, I did not find many documents and information and I am still interested if someone has more information and documents about this unknown incline. Cheers, Michel Azéma Paris (France)

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

The Duluth Belt-line Railway was the city's second incline railway, built in 1889. It ran passenger and freight service from Central Avenue in West Duluth to Vinland Street in Bayview Heights. It was 7,300 feet long with a rise of 600 feet. The steepest grade was 16 percent. A one-way trip took 24 minutes. The railway also had a freight service, which consisted mostly of lumber from the sawmills on Grassy Point. An electric gong signaled conductors to start and stop the two cars, which were permanently attached to a single cable. The trackage east of 61st Avenue West was abandoned in 1909 and a terminal was built at 61st & Grand where connections could be made with Duluth Street Railway Co. streetcars. Operations were shut down for winter in 1916. It is not known whether the railway resumed operation in the spring of 1917, but by fall it was being torn up and sold for scrap. Today, a powerline runs along much of the route.

newkid

about 4 years ago

I'm so glad this got brought up! I stumbled on stuff about this when researching our move up here a couple years ago, but haven't followed through and wonder about it often when I'm downtown looking up the hill wondering how we do it in the winters. {shutters} I hate driving downtown in the winter! "a terminal was built at 61st & Grand where connections could be made with Duluth Street Railway Co. streetcars." Is that the fantastic house just under I35?? Behind the library and all that?

Funimag

about 3 years ago

Thank you for the information about Belt Line Incline! I published an old photo of it here: New photo of the Duluth Belt Line Incline

forthetime_being

about 2 years ago

Dang that's a good link, @woodtick.

Les F

about 2 years ago

@woodtick & @Funimag Thanks to both of you for some interesting links. @Paul as always, thank for the mini history lesson!

Bonnie Schinigoi

about 9 months ago

That house on that picture of the tram ride is my old home at the top of Seventh Avenue West and Fourth Street. I lived there after I was married in 1961. The tram was gone when we bought the house, but the cement pillars were still in our yard. The house is gone now. Wow, unreal that I would come across my home in an old picture.

Bonnie Schinigoi

about 9 months ago

@ Funimag, thank you for the interesting story on the tram. We always wondered what the concrete pillars were in our yard. Now I know.

Michel Azéma

about 9 months ago

Thank you, Bonnie. It is nice to see that my Funimag article about Duluth inclines is still read and appreciated after more than four years. Michel Azéma (Paris, France)

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