The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

grave doubt

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

First things first – being from Brooklyn, I say things the way they’re spelled. “Hor d’oeuvres” is pronounced “whores da ova vreez” and “buffet” rhymes with bucket. I don’t say “terlet” or “erl” or “boid” but my parents did. The Duquesne Incline and the word “Duquesne,” thereby and in my mind, should be pronounced as “Doo Kezz Knee” but it’s actually pronounced “Doo Kayne.” It seems the Pittsburgh people are a bit sensitive about this topic, as I learned. Can’t take me anywhere.

Monongahela River is pronounced Brooklyn style, as a note – “Mo Non Ga Heela.” Saying all that, welcome to the Duquesne Incline, on Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington along the Monongahela River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As was the case with the Allegheny Incline described in earlier posts, the Duquesne Incline is a funicular railway operated by the Allegheny County Port Authority. There’s a large patio/overlook at the facility which offers iconic views of Pittsburgh and the conjunction of its three rivers. I’ll show you the iconic views tomorrow, but for today I’m still in nerd mode and geeking out about the funicular.

For those of you who might have missed the earlier post – a funicular railway runs on an angled track up and down a hill, and it’s cars are connected via haul ropes or cables. One car goes up, the other comes down. This is a pretty early form of “people mover” and there aren’t that many examples of this technology left in the modern day world. Pittsburgh used to have 17 of these, including ones whose entire occupation revolved around moving freight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s 1877 vintage, the Duquesne Incline. Designed by an engineer dubbed Samuel Diescher, this funicular was originally powered by steam, but is now electrically driven. It’s 800 feet long and 400 feet in height, and is set against the hill at a thirty degree angle. It uses the Eastern European style broad track gauge of 5 ft, which is an outlier in the United States. The Duquesne Incline actually went out of business in 1962, but local residents raised the money to resuscitate and renew the thing, and in 1963 it reopened. It has since been refurbished and returned to its historic state, and along with the Monongahela Incline a mile away, serves up transit to one million riders a year. A big part of that ridership, of course, are tourists like me. The modern day incarnation is overseen by the Allegheny County Port Authority, as mentioned above.

Both inclines are on the National Register of Historic Places, and are on the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s Landmark list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This one is from the lower station, and just like the Monongahela Incline, a round trip ticket cost me $3.50. The ticket agent actually left her booth to keep an eye on me while I was shooting this. She informed me that she couldn’t leave me alone in this area while the mechanisms were operating due to liability concerns, but that I could take all the pictures I wanted to. She seemed happy to be able to take a fresh air break, frankly.

I really have to compliment the Port Authority people for their friendliness and a willingness to answer questions. Another marked contrast with my daily experience in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the late 1970’s, the cars were refurbished and returned to a somewhat original appearance. Check out that tin roof detail. The cars were built in 1877 by a Philadelphia outfit called J.G. Brill and Co. who were manufacturers of street cars, motor buses, and railroad cars. They went out of business in 1954, and their intellectual property was acquired by General Electric’s transportation division in that year.

Gosh almighty, does a humble narrator enjoy his self a funicular or what? Nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After riding up and down, one got busy with the camera again. Tomorrow – some of those iconic Pittsburgh views from the Duquesne Incline’s overlook. As a point of interesting trivia, I encountered this 1877 illustration, drawn from a point of view here on Mt. Washington. Marked counterpoint with the modern Steel City, huh?

More tomorrow, from your traveling Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 4, 2021 at 11:00 am

3 Responses

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  1. Great historical info.


    November 5, 2021 at 9:30 pm

  2. […] State Park, and then the Monongahela River side Bridges and both Inclines – Monongahela and Duquesne – between Point State Park and the Smithfield Street Bridge. It’s almost as if the entire […]

  3. […] After crossing over the Monongahela River, the walkway is set onto an elliptical path which eventually brings one back to the sidewalk nearby Pittsburgh’s famous Duquesne Incline. […]

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