Fenelon Place Elevator - Dubuque's Operating Funicular Railway

While the State of Iowa as a whole may not be considered a hilly state, the same cannot be said for the City of Dubuque, which is located on the Mississippi River across from both Illinois and Wisconsin. The hills of the area offer a great location for a unique attraction: The Fenelon Place Elevator Company, which first operated under horse power in 1882.

Top to bottom, the funicular railway is 189 feet tall and 296 feet long. We visited the elevator during a stop in Dubuque a few years back and decided it's finally time to shed a little light on this unique and interesting place!

It is quite short, and quite steep, although I'm unsure if the website's claims of being the shortest and steepest scenic railway are truly accurate.

I've been on one other funicular in my lifetime, the other one being the Orient Express at Six Flags Magic Mountain, now known as the "Honda Express". This one has far better views and is much steeper, although the Magic Mountain one saves you a bit of uphill walking, so there's that.

From the top of the bluff, you can see three states, several bridges, and many of the interesting sites Dubuque has to offer!

The story of the creation of this funicular goes that a "Mr. J. K. Graves, a former mayor, former State Senator, also promoter of mines and a banker lived on top of the bluffs and worked at the bottom. Unfortunately, he had to spend half an hour driving his horse and buggy round the bluff to get to the top and another half an hour to return downtown, even though his bank was only two and a half blocks away.", and after having visited Europe wished to take the concept he had seen used over there and apply it to Dubuque.

The view going up is fantastic, and somewhat unnerving at the beginning for someone who's afraid of heights.

The completion of the elevator thus took what was a 30 minute walk or ride uphill into a matter of a few minutes.

In 1884, the elevator burned down but was rebuilt. Another 1893 fire that occurred during a recession would shut the original elevator down once again, before neighbors who had come to rely on it would band together to rebuilt it again. 

That same year, visitors to the 1893 Columbian Exposition would bring back new concepts for an elevator - a streetcar motor to replace animal power to run the elevator, using a turnstile, and steel cable for the cars, which would not burn in case of another fire, unlike the hemp rope of the original design.

At the top, one can see the entire ride, and the transfer track in the middle which allows for one car to go up the track with the same power as another car uses to go down.

View from the cable car nearing the top

It was at this point as well that they installed the current three rail with a fourth rail bypass in the middle to allow for the operation of two (funicular) counterbalanced cars, one going up and another going down.

Traveling downward just before the transfer track.

Another fire would occur in 1962, and the entire ride would be rebuilt in 1977. 

The first second of the ride can be a little jarring, but it is otherwise perfectly tame and should be fun for the whole family.

View upon exiting after having gone up and down the ride.

The ride is a short one, but the novelty, views and price ($3 for a round trip for adults) make it a worthwhile visit to anyone visiting the Dubuque area or nearby Galena. I can't imagine many people opting for a one-way trip unless you're into plenty of uphill or downhill walking!

Thanks as always for reading!


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