Fenelon Place Elevator – Dubuque, Iowa - Atlas Obscura
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Dubuque, Iowa

Fenelon Place Elevator

For just a few bucks, this Iowa funicular will let you feel like a 1800s fat cat. 

Hanging out in Dubuque, Iowa and find yourself too exhausted to scale the hill near Fenelon Place? Thanks to the Fenelon Place Elevator, self-described as the world’s shortest, steepest railroad, you need not exert yourself.

Unsurprisingly, the short little railway was originally built by wealthy businessman J.K Graves in 1882. His home was located on top of the hill, while the bank where he worked was at the bottom of the hill. He found the commute simply intolerable, as it got in the way of his preferred dinner and napping routine.

So he built the so-called elevator (it’s actually a funicular) for his own private use. The original version of the inclined railroad used a wooden car that was brought up and down the hill via a steam-powered winch, but this version of the elevator burned down just two years after it was built.

Graves rebuilt the elevator, and, noticing the local interest in the ride, opened it to the public for five cents a trip. The short trip chugs just 296 feet up the hill. 

After another fire in 1893 once again destroyed the cars, a small group of locals formed the Fenelon Place Elevator Company and began serving as the stewards of the train with Graves’ blessing. The site expanded over the years, seeing additions to the operator’s house that included a small apartment on top of it where the locals would come to play cards. 

Miraculously, the price for a ride did not go up until the 1960s, when it was doubled to a whopping 10 cents per ride. This may also explain why the funicular was not fully modernized until the 1970s.

The Fenelon Place Elevator is still in operation each year from April to November and is protected as a National Historic Landmark. Regrettably, the price has been increased to $3 for a round trip. While it’s hard to confirm if this is the shortest or steepest railway in the world, it may be the quickest way to feel like you are a rich person in the 1800s. 

Know Before You Go

Admission is paid at the top of the incline. You can get on at the bottom and pay at the top. Round trip admission, as of December 2018, is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children. The attraction is open from April 1 through November 30.