Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa
Some of the best things in my life have been the unexpected. I didn’t plan it, just came upon it doing something else, or looking for something else- and with that my mood instantly changes from a strange excitement to the childlike curiosity I had as a kid. Remember just exploring? Just walking out your front door, hopping on your bike, and letting the wind just take you on an adventure? Well, this experience was one of those.
I had stayed in Dubuque at an old Bed & Breakfast, which was an adventure in itself, but I hadn’t really planned much past Galena. After a walk amongst the beautiful artwork downtown, I went searching online for what else to do in town. That’s when I came across the “Fenelon Place Elevator” which was just bizarre to me. Described at the World’s steepest, scenic railway, it’s more like a cable car that acts like an elevator, the feel of a child’s size train from an amusement park, with still that added bonus of heights (a STRONG fear I have). 296 feet in length, taking you 189 feet above Fourth Street in Dubuque to Fenelon Place where the view is just simply spectacular!
Like you, I wondered, why is it there? It seemed so random in the spot it sat. Mr. J.K. Graves lived on top of the bluff, but like many, worked on the bottom. So he decided to create the cable car for himself, since he cut his time in going all the way around on horse and buggy. He used a coal-fired steam enine boiler and winch. Modeled after the cable cars in the Swiss Alps, it was hauled up and down on two rails with rope. Now it needed someone at the top to operate it, so he had his Gardner work it, and eventually neighbors and townsfolk started asking to use it for they saw the potential in time it saved. Because of it’s use of coal, it was inevitable there would eventually be a fire, the car was after all made of wood. They wouldn’t have just one fire, but three fires in total over the years. In 1977 the cars were completely rebuilt and attached with a DC Motor- which is how I found it now.
I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first- I was visiting in September of 2020 so Covid kept (and keeping) many people home. So there was all sorts of available parking for me, and I was fortunate enough they were even operating it during these times. Hours seem to be 8 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week. Because there is no human to talk to on the bottom, you just have signs to go by on how to go about riding this thing. Yeah, it was a bit weird. I am putting my life in some stranger’s hands at the top of this thing, someone I can’t see or even talk to- there’s not even an intercom! You just get in, ring the bell, and it starts to move towards the top while the opposite car comes down the other track. I’m telling you, it was the coolest and scariest experience I had had in a while. Oh, and it’s not free, it’s $1.50 one way or $3 round trip- CASH ONLY and I don’t even have a clue what would happen if you got to the top and didn’t have the money to pay for the ride you already got. I paid at the top, enjoyed the view, and then rode it back down. It’s like riding some amusement park ride, but it looks more like you’re sitting on a staircase then in a small train car.
Now, again, I don’t like heights, but I did just fine. It goes up and down pretty slow, and it feels safe and secure. Now there are no seatbelts just so you know, and there’s just a payment area at the top with an overlook area of the city- nothing else that I saw to do from that point there if I wasn’t heading back down. (No Restrooms Either). There are some adorable little shops at the bottom in the Square area, so it’s worth a ride and some light shopping to enjoy your day. I HIGHLY recommend this as it IS on the National Registry of Historical Places and it’s a fun thing to say you did. Enjoy!
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Going from “What If? to “Why Not” is my life motto and I work hard at living that every day. I share everything from moving to Florida to live near Disney World to road trips across the States. I love the cool, quirky, and crazy stuff that I can find on my Adventures, and every dollar you donate helps support my efforts and hard work. Thank you to ALL who support me!