Uncovering a Lost Incline – The Ridgewood

Mar 31, 2015 | | 5 comments

Everyone in Pittsburgh knows about the the Mon and Duquesne inclines.  Few knew that Northside had a several inclines during it’s Allegheny City incarnation.  This is recent knowledge to even myself.  I was blown away when I found this out, so I did an internet search to try to find out more.  There seemed to be a lot of images and information about the Old Birmingham (South Side) inclines, but very little was known about Northside’s.  Troy Hill, Perry Hilltop and Fineview all had working inclines in the late 1800’s.  There is also evidence that there were plans for inclines from Madison to Haslage Street in Spring Hill, Perrysville to Jacksonia via Buena Vista Street, and Spring Garden to Troy Hill via Wicklines Lane, but at the moment, it is unsure if any of those were built.  So I was able to find a little information from the internet, but It wasn’t enough for me.  I needed evidence.

I decided to start with The Ridgewood, because it is least known.  This is because it was in service for just short of a year.  It was built in 1889 and part of it burned down that same year.  It traveled opposite Nevada Street on Taggart (Charles Street) near Nixon, crossing Irwin Avenue on a wooden trestle to Ridgewood Street at Yale.  First we searched Historic Pittsburgh Maps to pinpoint the exact location and route.

Ridgewood Incline Map 1890

Location of the Ridgewood incline on 2015 map.

Location of the Ridgewood incline on 2015 map.

We ventured out to get a physical look at the area.  After grabbing a couple of souvenir bricks from the freshly demolished Brashear Lens Factory, myself and Kimberley (Swiss Miss) Gandy walked down Ridgewood Street to see if we could find remnants of the short lived incline. Immediately we began to find clues of it’s existence.  Upon approach of the site, the first thing we noticed a very old, weather-beaten, stylish pole bolted into old stone.  This was a good sign.

Ridgewood Incline original fence, poles and stones 2015 swiss miss 1-2As we got closer to the corner of Ridgewood and Yale we noticed that there was old leftover lattice-style metal fencing on the corner.  The gut was telling me that it had to be part of the original structure.  We also saw pole fencing on the Yale Street side.  We felt that the pole fence was about as old as the incline because the paint matched.   However since the incline descended down the Yale Street side, we came to the conclusion that the pole fencing was installed shortly after the incline closed for safety reasons.

Ridgewood Incline original fence, poles and stones 2015-2 swiss miss

After seeing all this evidence on the surface we knew that there would be more clues if we climb over the fence to look at the hillside.  We found a shallow section on Yale Street and descended slightly down the hill.  That part was kinda scary because the woods shield the drop-off, and all of a sudden I could feel the weight of the bricks in my back pack.  My curiosity eventually chased away the fear.  I looked up hill and noticed a stack of railroad ties, which definitely appear to be associated with the Ridgewood Incline, camouflaged by the surrounding woods.

Railroad Ties in Woods by Yale Street kim gandy

A quick look left toward the hill’s edge revealed a stone retaining wall capping off the corner of Yale & Ridgewood Streets.  This was more confirmation of the of the inclines existence.  We believe that would be no other reason for such a wall at this location.  Plus it was consistent with the Pittsburgh Historic Map of the incline’s position.

Ridgewood Incline Retaining Wall in Woods by Yale Street kim gandy

Before leaving I looked for any others clues that I could spot with my naked eye.  Along the edge of Yale Street I saw old, wooden guard rails normally associated with old street car routes, like the ones that we recently photographed in the Fineview Hollows.   Their signs of aging appear almost identical to the left-over rail road ties.

Guard Rails along Yale Street Perry Hilltop kim gandy.

Our search ended for the day, feeling satisfied that we found some remnants of this little known incline.  I figured that I would eventually return to that spot and visit Charles Street to look for more evidence and artifacts.  A few days later I started looking through my photo downloads of the City Photographers Collection of Taggart Street in Pleasant Valley for my blog on that area.  I started matching the photos with historic maps to try to pinpoint the locations of the images.  That’s when a few more pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

Old maps listed the names of the property owners. A map from 1900 shows that 72 Taggart Street was owned by J. McGarvey.  To the right of that was an empty lot, 196 Taggart and a building at 206 owned by Thomas Logan.  According to a Map from 1890, 206 Taggart Street served as the Sub-Station of the Ridgewood Incline.  So now we at least had a visual of the building.

Taggart Street 1916 City of pgh photographerUpon closer inspection of the photo, we noticed at the top that you can see Yale Street at Ridgewood.  You can also see the stone wall, metal lattice fence and pole fencing that are still there today.

Close-up of 1916 city photographer photo

The 2nd image of Taggert Street shows the right side of 206 Taggart Street which served as the sub-station for the Ridgewood Incline in 1889.  While looking at the hills we noticed railroad ties scattered all around.  We also noticed a stone structure and near it is a small track and an object that appears to be on rail wheels.  Although we can’t confirm what the objects and structures are, and what they were used for, they were located near Irwin Avenue.  That’s the area where the inclines trestle burned down in 1889 causing it to close down.

Taggart Street 1916 (2) City of pgh photographer

The only thing that I’m missing at this point is an actual image of the Ridgewood Incline itself, but I believe it is just a matter of time before an image surfaces.

Posted in: History

5 Responses

  1. My Father grew up on ridgewood, and I fought many fires(27 yrs. PBF) on that st as well as surrounding sts. area know as Clifton pk.most homes burnt on ridgewood were a result of an arsonist. including my dads home. my mom grew up not far away on Charles st. her family owned a number of row houses at corner of Wilson. she became a multiple jr. Olympic champ diver. her bedroom window looked out on Pleasant Valley pool/ diving boards.

  2. In years past, I wrote several articles about these North Side Inclines in the original NORTHSIDE CHRONICLE and most recently, a few years back—–about the NS trolleys in conjunction with the opening of the North Shore T link… I have explored many of these sites including the Ridgewood… It was years ago, many years ago, that a fellow up in Fineview gave me an image of the Nunnery Hill Incline w/the man on it’s track structure. It was I who worked w/the late Mary Wohelber of Troy Hill on getting that historical marker onto the TH’s Upper Station site.

    I am eager to see an actual image showing the RIDGEWOOD, CLIFTON, TROY HILL & BELLEVUE inclines—–even through the Bellevue was more of a hybrid cable railway similar to those in Europe.

    BRYANT SCHMUDE (( mrconductor2010@yahoo.com ))

  3. The Ridgewood Incline is usually said to have opened in 1889 and to have lasted anywhere from less than a year to 11 years. It probably actually operated from 1886 to 1887. The Pittsburgh (Daily) Post reported on Dec. 17, 1886, that “The Ridgewood Incline Railway Company, Limited, yesterday commenced running the car on the new incline from Taggart street to Yule [sic] street and Ridge avenue, Allegheny.” The same paper on Dec. 20 wrote that Alexander Leggate, president of the incline’s company, gave a banquet in honor of the opening. The engine house caught fire on May 30 of the next year, as reported in the following morning’s Post. The fire, supposedly caused by a natural gas leak, destroyed the engine house, office, and some 30 or 40 feet of track. Though engineers were optimistic that the incline would soon be reconstructed, the track appears on an 1890 Hopkins map as “Old Incline Plane (Burned)”.

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