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A Cable Car in Iowa

The Fenelon Place Elevator

USA | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [39] | Scholarship Entry

There’s a place rich in history, with steep, street-lined bluffs leading down to a fog-filled valley and a lively scene of exquisite art, delectable food, wine, baristas, boutiques, record stores, and antique shops. It's not serene San Francisco, but Dubuque, Iowa--so closely reminiscent it even has a Cable Car.

The Fenelon Place Elevator, better known to Dubuque’s locals as the “4th Street Elevator,” is a streetcar that travels up the steepest of Dubuque’s bluffs, via cable, to Fenelon Street, overlooking the Mississippi River Valley. It was built in 1882 by J.K. Graves, who was unhappy with the hour-long commute it took him to get up the bluff to his home for lunch. At the time, Dubuque was known as, “an hour and a half town” (at lunchtime the townspeople went home for an hour and a half), and Graves much preferred a half hour lunch, a half hour nap, and a half hour commute.

When it opened to the public, a round trip ride cost five cents. Today it will cost you four dollars. The base of the elevator is located at the end 4th Street in Dubuque’s Cable Car Square. Ring the bell and a conductor at the top lowers down an antique hunter green streetcar. Pull open the glass accordion doors, climb aboard, and grab a seat at the bottom for the best view. When the streetcar reaches the top of the elevator, depart onto a limestone platform and take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the vibrant city and river valley below.

Visit for a ride on the Elevator in the fall when the leaves are changing and the air is crisp. Once at the top, venture into the surrounding picturesque Fenelon Place Neighborhood. Walk along the beautiful streets, awe at centuries-old oak trees, and appreciate meticulously maintained Victorian and Edwardian mansions (the type Graves inhabited).

Back at the elevator, perch yourself on one of the whitewashed benches overlooking the city. Take in the dramatic change of the colorful landscape. In the morning, the rays of the sun bounce off the Mississippi River, giving a dewy glow to the misty valley. With the afternoon sun, the fog lifts, offering a view of the city’s rich and colorful architecture. There’s a good chance you’ll spot a local artist painting the scene onto canvas. At twilight, let the warm lights of the bustling city draw you back down the Elevator where you can explore the antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques of Cable Car Square--and all that Dubuque, the San Francisco of the Midwest, has to offer.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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