Exploring Series: The Incline Railway
Nestled in the heart of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a city renowned for its rich history and breathtaking landscapes, lies a fascinating piece of both transportation history and natural beauty – the Incline Railway that runs between St. Elmo and Lookout Mountain. This iconic railway, often referred to as “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” has not only been a marvel of engineering but has also played a significant role in shaping the region’s development. Join us as we journey through time to uncover the historical significance, dates of operation, and the awe-inspiring views that the Incline Railway has to offer.
A Glimpse into History:
The Incline Railway, in St. Elmo (lower station) and Lookout Mountain (upper station), traces its origins back to the late 19th century. It was conceived as a solution to the transportation challenges posed by the steep incline of Lookout Mountain. Constructed in 1895, the railway was a response to the growing demand for a reliable means of ascending the mountain, which was known for its panoramic views and lush natural landscapes. At its inception, the railway primarily served as a method for residents and tourists to access the attractions atop Lookout Mountain.
- 1877: The first incline railway opened, running from 38th Street to just below the Point of Lookout Mountain. This incline closed in 1899 because the second railway was so successful.
- November 16, 1895: The second Incline Railway was officially opened to the public, marking a significant milestone in the city’s transportation history.
- 1928-1929: The railway underwent a period of modernization, upgrading its original steam-powered system to an electric system, which improved its efficiency and capacity.
- 1987: The Incline Railway was designated as a National Historic Site, recognizing its architectural and historical importance.
A Ride Like No Other:
Taking a ride on the Incline Railway is akin to stepping into a time capsule while experiencing the thrill of ascending a mountain in a truly unique manner. The railway’s cars, which are set on a steep incline (the steepest part on a 72.7% grade), provide passengers with an awe-inspiring view of the surrounding landscapes. At it’s steepest point, the incline is considered to be the “world’s steepest passenger railway” (visitchattanooga.com). As the railway ascends Lookout Mountain, passengers are treated to breathtaking vistas of the Chattanooga Valley below. The railway’s track stretches for approximately one mile, during which passengers can marvel at the lush greenery, picturesque neighborhoods, and the cityscape in the distance. From the upper station’s observation deck, enjoy views through the vintage binoculars of the city of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Valley, the Tennessee River, as well as the distant Appalachians.
Points of Interest:
Beyond its remarkable transportation history and stunning views, the Incline Railway has several points of interest that capture the essence of the region:
- Incline Railway Station: The station itself is a historical gem, exuding an old-world charm that harks back to the early 20th century. Its architecture and design are a testament to the era in which it was constructed. While you’re admiring the architecture, enjoy Clumpie’s Ice Cream, a Chattanooga favorite!
- Point Park: At the summit of Lookout Mountain, passengers can disembark and explore Point Park, a 10-acre historic site commemorating the Civil War’s “Battle Above the Clouds.” The park features various monuments, walking trails, interpretive displays, and spectacular views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.
- Nature’s Beauty: Throughout the journey, passengers can witness the changing flora, from the vibrant colors of spring and summer to the golden hues of fall. By the way, U.S. News & World Report just ranked Chattanooga as one the top 27 places to see fall colors in 2023! Visit the link here.
- Other Nearby Attractions: Rock City and Ruby Falls are other well-known attractions on Lookout Mountain that shouldn’t be missed while you’re on Lookout Mountain.
The Incline Railway in St. Elmo, stands as a remarkable testament to both human ingenuity and the allure of nature’s beauty. Its historical significance, from its inception in the late 19th century to its modern-day operation, showcases its enduring appeal to residents and tourists alike. As visitors ascend Lookout Mountain, they not only experience the thrill of a unique mode of transportation, but also gain a newfound appreciation for the captivating landscapes that define Chattanooga’s charm. So, the next time you find yourself near St. Elmo, don’t miss the opportunity to take a ride on the Incline Railway and journey through time and nature simultaneously.
Explore Series: Chattanooga and the surrounding areas have earned their reputation as a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, thanks to their strategic position at the meeting point of the Cumberland Plateau and the southern Appalachians. Notably, Outside Magazine has recognized Chattanooga as the “Best Town Ever” twice, a testament to the diverse range of outdoor activities and attractions it offers.