Pittsburgh’s Incline History

A view from the Penn Incline

A view from the Penn Incline

Inclines are in integral part of Pittsburgh’s past and provided much needed benefit to both citizens and businesses.  As the city expanded, there was a serious housing shortage.  Plans called for developing the surrounding hillsides.  Given that most of the “traffic” around Pittsburgh during the late 1800’s was horse cars and pedestrian, the need to traverse the hills around the city led planners and engineers to figure out the best way to get up those steep grades.  The incline was the answer.  There have been 23 different inclines in Pittsburgh’s history, and two still in existence, The Monongahela and the Duquesne.  The Golden Age of these inclines was the turn of the century, and they are clearly visible on the maps.  Most of the early inclines were built by mining companies who had a vested interest in maximizing profits.

Ormsby Mine Gravity Plane (1844-1878)

Route location near the St. Clair Incline – St. Patrick Street to South 21nd Street and Quarry Street – connected to narrow gauge railway – Ormsby (Southside).  Opened in 1838 by John H Page and Captain Phillips. They built a tipple a road along the line of Twenty first street to the base of the hill, a gravity plane and check house and operated to the river trade until 1844. It then remained idle until 1846, and passed into possession of George Leadley.  He operated until 1851 and was succeeded by Dr. Oliver Ormsby, who operated in a small way until 1861, and was then leased by Keeling, Smith and Co. Source here.

Kirk Lewis Coal Incline/Hoist (1854-1876)

Grandview Avenue (formerly High Street) near the present Duquesne Incline – Duquesne Heignts (Mount Washington).  This coal incline was named after Abraham Kirkpatrick Lewis, one of the early pioneers in Pittsburgh coal mining.

The Cray and Company Coal Incline (pre-1872)

Upper station near Junius Street and Camden Street (formerly Catherine Street and Hill Street – Westwood; lower station at Shaler Street – West End Valley (Union Borough).

Clinton Iron Works Coal Incline (pre-1872)

Located on the hillside below Maple Terrace to West Carson Street (formerly Washington Turnpike) near the present Station Square – Mount Washington.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1872, 1882, 1903-7, 1910)

Jones and Laughlin Coal Incline (c.1854), length: 1300 ft

Josephine Street between South 29th Street and South 30th Street to Summer Street – Southside Slopes.  Used only for coal.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)


Keeling Incline

Keeling Coal Incline  (1870-1928)

Route similar to lower end of Mount Oliver and Knoxville inclines, along Southside slope – from narrow gauge railroad exiting Keeling Coal Company mines to station at South 12th Street – Southside Slopes.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1872, 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Monongahela Incline

Monongahela   (1870-present), height: 367.39 ft, length: 635 ft

The Monongahela was the first incline built exclusively with passengers in mind, and probably for good reason.  Its lower station is near the Smithfield Street bridge and allowed people to travel from their homes on Mount Washington (sometimes known as Coal Hill) to businesses downtown.  There was both a passenger and freight service, hauling anything from horses to motor vehicles.  Due to the increase in streetcars and motor vehicles, the freight line was closed in 1935.  During that time the passenger line was upgraded from a steam engine to the more modern electrical version we see today. At a 35 degree grade, it’s one of the steepest in the world.  It is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and as an historic structure by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1872, 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Mount Oliver Incline

Mount Oliver – (1871-1951),  height: 377 ft, length: 1600 ft

Officially known as the South Twelfth Street Inclined Plane – South 12th Street at Freyburg Street to Warrington Avenue – Mount Oliver.  It was designed in 1871 by Prussian engineer John Endres and his daughter Caroline.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1872, 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Duquesne Incline

Duquesne – (1877-present),  height: 400 ft, length: 800 ft

When it was opened in 1877, it was one of 4 inclines on Coal Hill.  There was a need to connect the people from the residential areas to places of work in the city due to not only lack of transit, but lack of roads in general.  The incline was updated in 1963 due to the efforts of an organization to help save and restore it.  The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline is a non-profit organization that still exists today.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Fort Pitt – (1882-1906), height: 375 ft, length: 2640 ft

The Fort Pitt incline was built in 1882 and was needed to people traveling from the Birmingham Street Bridge. It extended from north end of South Tenth Street Bridge to Bluff Street – Duquesne University Bluff. Traffic became too heavy to maintain the incline and it was closed in 1906.  There is a stairway that connects 2nd Ave to a pedestrian bridge over the Blvd of the Allies.  This stairway is on the site of the old incline.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Monongahela Freight Incline

Monongahela Freight – (1883-1935)

Built next to the original passenger incline, it had a unique 10 ft gauge that would allow vehicles, as well as passengers to ascend and descend the hill.  Due to the increase in streetcars and motor vehicles, the freight line was closed in 1935.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Penn Incline

Penn (17th St) – (1883-1953), height: 330 ft, length: 870 ft

The Penn Incline was also known as the 17th St Incline.  Over Bigelow Boulevard to Liberty Avenue, from Ledlie Street to 17th Street – Hill District. It featured 20 ton cars that hauled coal, freight and passengers.  There is a great before/after picture on the Post-Gazette site. There has been recent talk of reopening/rebuilding this incline to use by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1882, 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

St. Clair (22nd St) – (1886-1935), height: 250 ft, length: 2000 ft

South 22nd Street and Josephine Street to Salisbury Street between Fernleaf Street and Sterling Street – St. Clair Village.  This was more of a railway than incline, as it was on the ground most of the way.  The incline carried both passengers and freight.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Nunnery Hill – (1887-1899)

The first curved track incline in Pittsburgh   It ran from Federal Street at Henderson Street (formerly Fairmount Street), North Side, to Catoma Street near Meadville Street (formerly Clyde Street).  There is recent activity about protecting one of the incline’s walls and the lower station here and here.

Troy Hill – (1887-1898), length: 370 ft

near end of old 30th Street Bridge to Lowrie Street at Ley Street, west of Lofink Street and Rialto Street (formerly Ravine Street) – Troy Hill.  This incline is unique in that it was one of only a few on the northside and had a 47 degree gradient.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910)

Bellevue and Davis Island – (1887-1892)

This was not an incline in the way we think about it today, but was the first passenger railway service in Pittsburgh.  This was the first of its kind in the city.  However, it was not in operation for long, closing only a few years after it opened.  Dilworth Run ravine, from South Starr and West Bellevue following abandoned course of Oak Street to Ohio River at Davis Island.  The incline was sold at auction in 1889 for $23,000.  The sale was stated as result of mismanagement (Pittsburgh Dispatch, April 2, 1889)

Ridgewood – (1889-1900)

Not much of this incline is known.  It was only in operation for a short time and burned down in 1900.  Charles Street North (formerly Taggart Street) near Nixon Street to Ridgewood Street at Yale Street – Perry Hilltop.

Knoxville Incline

Knoxville – (1890-1960), height: 375 ft, length: 2644 ft

Officially known as the Pittsburgh Incline Plane – South 11th Street at Bradish Street to Warrington Avenue and Knoxville Avenue – The second incline in Pittsburgh with a curved track – Knoxville.

there was an 18 degree curve in the middle, which was rare to see in inclines. Each car weighed 10 tons and carried passengers and vehicles.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Castle Shannon Incline

Castle Shannon – (1890-1964), length: 1350 ft

The Castle Shannon incline was built as a means of moving passengers over Mount Washington, rather than using the Castle Shannon tunnel, which was used to move coal.  The route ran from East Carson Street near Arlington Avenue to Bailey Street – Mount Washington.  The large cars on the Castle Shannon incline could transport both passengers and automobiles.  It was originally steam powered, and was converted to electric in 1918.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Castle Shannon South

Castle Shannon South – (1892-1914)

This was also known as Castle Shannon Incline Number 2.  It ran from Warrington Avenue to Bailey Street  in Mount Washington, more of an extension of the first Castle Shannon line. Due to the increased pedestrian traffic on streetcars, the incline was closed in 1914.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Clifton – (1895-1905)

The incline rode from Strauss Street (formerly Metcalf Street and Myrtle Street) on North Side to Clifton Park (Chautauqua Street) – Perry Hilltop in Manchester.  There is an old Press article that mentioned the Clifton incline had an accident in 1905 that resulted in the “smashing of a nearby house” but there are were no casualties.

Link to Viewer (Basemaps 1903-7, 1910, 1923)

Norwood – (1901-1923)

This incline was originally free to use and then later charged a penny and became known as the “Penny Incline.”  It ran from Island Avenue near Adrian Street to Desiderio Avenue between McKinnie Avenue and Highland Avenue – McKees Rocks/Stowe.

Link to Viewer (Basemap 1923)

Read more about the builders of these inclines from the Tribune Review

Resources used for research:

History of the Duquesne Incline

The Brookline Connection

Pittsburgh Inclines Tribute



7 thoughts on “Pittsburgh’s Incline History

  1. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site before but after browsing through many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m certainly happy I found it and I’ll
    be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

  2. I purchased a photo in Indiana last week titled Elevation- Inclined Plane, Pittsburgh and think that it is older than others I’ve seen online. I’m looking for information and would be willing to share the image.

  3. I rarely see more than perfunctory references to the Castle Shannon No. 2 incline, though its right-of-way still hides, in plain sight, along Haberman Ave, between Warrington Ave and Kathleen St. It seems to me that this deserves a little more attention.

  4. Your website is a great resource on the history of the inclines in Pittsburgh.

    However, you have a mistake in your history of the Knoxville Incline.

    From the maps viewer, historic photos, etc, I can see that the terminus was the intersection of modern day E. Warrington and Arlington ​Avenues – not Knoxville Ave. I can’t even find a street named Knoxville Ave.

    It was named the Knoxville Incline because it was funded by the Knoxville Land Improvement Company – who built many houses in the Knoxville neighborhood of Pittsburgh.


    I have recently created the Knoxville Incline Overlook Park, and I’m trying to clear up any confusion about the history of this cool incline. ​

    Can this be corrected? ​


    • Hi Cara,

      Thanks for the email. Yes, it can be corrected and I have gone ahead and done that. I appreciate the information- some of these things are hard to find!

  5. Terrific work on inclines. The dramatic photographs, excellent post cards, engineering transport and train history make this all worth a book on Pittsburgh Inclines. I hope you will take it on. I found the Coleman Inclined Plane along the Allegheny River Boulevard referenced in the 1872 Map of Pittsburgh. It was for a coal mine, as I am seeing from this site inspired several early inclines. One can see the path it took on today’s Google Earth.

  6. I would like to see more pictures of the St. Clair Incline. My Great Uncle, Albert Klinkenberger (spelled Klingenberger in the article) was killed after jumping off of this in 1909. Awesome site!

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