Fenelon Place Elevator

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque is the world's shortest, steepest scenic railway.  It is 296 feet long and elevates passengers 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.  

The elevator was originally built in 1882 by an engineer hired by former Mayor J. K. Graves because it took him 90 minutes to drive his horse and buggy from his bank below around the bluff to his home on the top for lunch, even though his bank was actually only 2 and a half blocks from his house.
The elevator soon became popular with the neighbors, and after it was rebuilt because of a fire in 1884, he started charging 5 cents a ride.  The elevator burned again in 1893.  Ten neighbors invested in rebuilding it together.  The neighbor who lived closest to the elevator (C. B. Trewin) bought all of the stock as various neighbors moved or passed away, until in 1912 he became the sole stockholder.  The elevator was last rebuilt in 1977.  You can read the complete history of the elevator at the Fenelon Place Elevator Co. website.

We visited the Fenelon Place Elevator before our wedding crashing adventure.  
From the top, we had a majestic view of the city of Dubuque and the Mississippi River! 
The building at the top of the hill where passengers pay and the railway is operated is shown on the right.
After enjoying the scenery, we bought round trip tickets at the window on the left.  The charge for a round trip ticket was $3.00 per person.  The man on the left is the railway operator.
Dubuque locals use the elevator for regular transportation in the summer months (it's open April 1st - November 30th).  It is also a tourist attraction.  One group that came up the elevator before us had a very large dog with them!
Our turn came; we boarded and headed down the track!  It was interesting watching how the cables worked.
We explored the town below.  There were beautiful old-style homes, many of which now serve as shops and studios.  
The Cathedral of St. Raphael is a prominent feature.  It is pictured with the parsonage on the right.
Isn't the sky beautiful? The Cathedral was locked, and we didn't have time to ask for a tour, 
so we strolled back to the elevator and started our return trip.
After boarding, we closed the door and pulled a string which alerted the operator at the top. Travelling up was slightly scarier than coming down because, we figured, as one descends one is getting closer and closer to safety; on the contrary, when one ascends, he or she is theoretically getting closer and closer to certain death or injury should the cables break and the car hurtle down the hill.

However, after discussion, we decided that our fears were unfounded.  There is in reality little to no danger of the cables snapping.  Since a cable is composed of many wires they would break one by one over time, giving the operators time to replace the cables before there is any danger--that's our non-expert theory anyway, figuring this out *before* our ride would have given us more peace of mind.  
The Fenelon Place Elevator is a spot every Iowan should visit at least once.  It's a fascinating ride for only $3.00, the top has an extraordinary view, and the city below is very interesting to see.  


  1. It's fabulous, Bethany! I think I may have to talk my hubby into a trip out there just so we can ride the elevator :) Although, if we never make it I at least got to experience it through your delightful photos - thanks for sharing!

    Have a wonderful afternoon, dear one!

  2. The mayor should have taken his lunch to work! But necessity is the mother of invention, and he got some amazing transportation there!

  3. what beautiful and very interesting images, looks like a great spot!!

    i like your purple shirt!!!

  4. Thanks Stephanie! It would be awesome if your family could take a trip there!

    Ah, that would have been a good idea Deborah! Except he also liked to take a nap on lunch break--but he could have brought a pillow too!

    Thanks Debbie!

  5. Wonderful photos and place. Thank you so much for your visit to my blog. Come by any time.

  6. Beautiful photos! What an interesting place to visit. I really enjoy when fellow bloggers share their adventures and sights!

  7. Ah yes! I do too...enjoy visiting your blog!