There are three attractions on Lookout Mountain besides Point Park: Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Incline. I already wrote about Rock City but we have also done the other two. Ruby Falls will be a post for another day. The Incline was my favorite of the three.
Getting up Lookout Mountain has always been a challenge. During the Civil War the Confederate army hauled cannons up the mountain with men pulling, pushing, and hauling on ropes winched around trees. Before the Civil War there was a rough turnpike that was only used in the dry summer months. The four-hour buggy ride made travel prohibitive for most people. When Lookout Mountain became a popular tourist destination and summer home location around the turn of the 20th century, the Inclined Railway became a popular method of reaching the summit.
The current Incline is actually Inclined Railway #2. The first went to the point of the mountain. The second is about half a mile south of the summit. Opened in November of 1895, this new, broader gauge passenger railway simply known as “The Incline” easily whisks residents and visitors up and down the steepest part of Lookout Mountain.
Built by John Crass and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway Company, The Incline is a technical marvel that at its extreme reaches an incline of 72.7%, making it one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. The original coal-burning steam engines were replaced by two 100-horsepower motors in 1911, but other than that the railway hasn’t changed very much in its more than 120 years of operation. It operates on a cable with the two rail cars serving as counterweights to each other. When one goes up, the other goes down. The cars pass each other in the middle. There is an Otis Centrifugal Brake that will keep the cars from plunging down the mountain in the unlikely event that the cable breaks.
The railway car itself is built on an incline. The floor angles down, like a theater floor, so you have to walk down to sit in the front. Consequently the chairs stay mostly level as the car goes up or down the mountain.
I was fascinated by the Incline. Riding it was much easier than driving up and down the mountain – and much safer. The Incline has never had an accident. The view was amazing in both directions. I was a little disconcerted when we pulled into the station at the top, because it felt like we were hanging off the side of the mountain, but the station is solidly built and there was a good, sturdy platform for getting off the car.
If you visit Chattanooga, you definitely want to ride the Incline. And once you get to the top, visit Point Park and say hi to the rangers at the Visitor Center. Who knows – they might even be us!