Thursday, January 6, 2011

Group to Save Nunnery Hill Incline

A North Side community group is hoping to preserve what remains of an incline that stopped running more than 110 years ago. In 1887 Samuel Diescher designed an incline to move people up and down Nunnery Hill in what is now Fineview. Fineview Citizens Council program manager Ed Lewis says the incline had an unusual run. “Part of its construction to accommodate the hill was to design it so it curved at the midway point,” says Lewis. The Fineview council contends it was the first funicular built in the city with a curve. Plans show it took a 70-degree bend.

All that remains of the incline is a wall along Henderson Street and a two-story brick building that served as the lower station on Federal Street. All remnants of the upper station are gone. The line would have terminated on what is now Meadville Street. The Fineview Citizens Council has applied for historic designation for the structures and has already made it through two steps of the approval process. The Incline stopped running in 1899.

The lower station is now a privately owned apartment building. Lewis says from the front it is hard to tell the building had any other use, but from the back you may notice something unusual. The back of the otherwise brick building is wood shingles. It was originally open in the back to allow the car to enter. “What we want to see is that the wall be preserved, that it be stabilized, and that we have some interpretive signage telling people the story of this incline and letting people know what was there,” says Lewis, “right now people don’t even know it exists because it is so overgrown. This would draw attention to it and make people feel a sense of civic pride in the neighborhood.” Lewis says the effort is part of a larger strategic push to preserve and improve the neighborhood’s assets.

Lewis says if the council is successful in getting the historic designation, it will launch a fundraising campaign to cover engineering and restoration costs. However, Lewis says he has no idea how much it will cost.

Samuel Diescher designed several other inclines in he region including three that are still in operation. Diescher is credited with the Mon and Duquesne Inclines in Pittsburgh, and the incline in Johnstown, which carries traffic to the top of Yoder Hill.

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