DUBUQUE, Iowa- Commuting to work in 1882 in this northeast Iowa City was hard for banker, J.K.Graves. He lived on the top of the bluff, but his bank was at the bottom. It took him a half hour with his horse and buggy to drive around the bluff from the bank to his house for lunch. His house was only 300 feet away, up the bluff.
Graves had traveled to Europe, and seen incline railways, where cars went up and down with cables. So he hired a mining engineer to do that for him.
After a fire burned down the original elevator, Graves went to his neighbors to ask if they would like to chip in to rebuild the elevator.
“So he opened it up to the public in 1884 and he charged a nickel,” said Amy Shadle, current owner of the Fenelon Place Elevator. “Fenelon, that’s the name of the street here.”
The neighbors owned and ran the elevator. Eventually Shadle’s great grandfather bought the shares owned by the neighbor. For four generations, it’s been in her family.
“I have four grandchildren and we’re starting to train them,” said Shadle. “One is operating the cars, the 17-year-old is learning to run a shift.”
Shadle lives right near the Fenelon Place Elevator. She keeps busy along with part time workers keeping the elevator going.
The run April though November, from 8 am to 10 pm. They are closed on Thanksgiving. There is also a lot of work to maintain the cables, and the tracks.
“TSA has us listed as a railroad so we get TSA inspectors twice a year,” said Shadle. “It’s pretty much a break-even thing, we’re always doing maintenance last year we broke the shaft so we learn what millwrights do, they’re awesome people.”
The rides cost $1.50 one way for adults, and $3.00 round trip for an adult. Kids are .75 cents one way, and $1.50 round trip. Under 5 kids ride free.
The Fenelon Place Elevator is billed as the shortest, steepest railway in the world. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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