TBT: Cincinnati’s Incline Planes

Welcome to my first ever Throwback Thursday, where I share gems from my research for my novel.


The setting of my current Work In Progress (WIP) is a city with a wealth of history to pull from, Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati is known as the Queen City and more important to today’s post, the City of Seven Hills.


Drawing by Geneva South, 1972

The terrain for Cincinnati is very hilly as you can guess by the name, but not the gentle rolling hill kind where kids spend all summer rolling down until they become too dizzy to stand. Cincinnati’s hills are of the variety where trees and ravines impede your progress, where semis turn their hazard lights on because the climb to the top reduces them to a crawl.


Now step back to the Industrial Revolution, about one hundred-fifty years ago. Factories clogged the air with soot and smoke. Tuberculosis was rampant. The stench of the Erie Canal was far from pleasant. People looked to the hills for relief.


Omnibuses drawn by horses were the first transit system devised to struggle up the hills. However, drivers often had to hop out, block the wheels, and allow the horses to stop and rest before proceeding to the pristine air above. An alternative was desperately needed.
Responding to the need, business partners, Joseph Stacy Hill and George Smith, opened Cincinnati’s first incline plane on May 12, 1872. Hill top resorts, like the Lookout House and Highland House, opened and regularly drew in crowds of up to 10,000.  (An upcoming post will describe the Highland House.)


Mt. Adams Incline


By the time my novel opens in 1883, Cincinnati had 4 operating inclines: The Mt. Auburn Incline (leading to the Lookout House), the Mt. Adams Incline (leading to the Highland House), the Price Hill Incline (the only double incline – one for freight and one for passengers), and the Bellevue Incline.


Interesting Tidbits and Stories


  • In 1884, the price of a ride was 5¢.


  • A one-way trip took 2 minutes and 20 seconds. This was repeated six times every hour, 19 hours a day.


  • The Mt. Adams Incline made the trip in about 90 seconds.



Mt. Adams Incline (1906): A car is lowering down the track and will eventually become flush with the ground.

  • All full crew consisted of an operator, an engineer, a fireman, two gatemen, and two carpenters. The gateman’s job was to take the tickets from the passengers in the waiting room and then escort them onto the lift.


  • A telegraphic system of signal bells between the operating engineer in the powerhouse at the top of the hill and the attendant at the bottom of the station. Two bells meant “ready,” one bell signaled the doors were closed and locked (“alarm”), and three bells rang for “start.”


  • The Bellevue Incline passed by McMicken Hall, the first college of the University of Cincinnati. A medical school shared a freezer for cadavers with a brewery down the hill, and young students often got a thrill from waving body parts at passengers who passed by on the incline, in particular passengers of the female variety.

Bellevue Incline: You can see McMicken Hall in the background on the right.



Although the Cincinnati inclines are no longer around, the last one having closed its doors on July 25, 2008, they are still a fascinating part of history.


What was your favorite tidbit? Do you have any tidbits? How do you think inclines might play a part in my Work In Progress?


*All pictures were retrieved from: http://retro.cincinnati.com/Topics/Gallery/Cincinnati-Inclines#The Highland House. Visit there to see more pictures.

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