Although Duluth’s best-known incline railway was located in Downtown Duluth, Duluth’s first and longest incline railway — the Bay View Incline — connected Grand Avenue in West Duluth to Vinland Street in Bayview Heights. This line was also known as the Belt Line Incline Railway and the West Duluth Incline. Running from 1889 to 1916, the Bay View Incline had a short lifespan, but played an important role in overcoming Duluth’s hillside topography to connect Proctor to Duluth.
The Bay View Incline was built in 1889 at a cost of $107,000 (approximately $2.6 million today) and transported its riders along three miles of track and six hundred feet in elevation with 15,000 feet of cable. The construction of the expansive line inspired a report in the Duluth News Tribune on May 8, 1890, to call the rail line “the longest of its kind in the world.” The trip took 24 minutes and cost passengers 15 cents for a round-trip ticket when the Incline opened for operation on July 8, 1890. Though the Incline only featured one car at its opening, it added another car in 1892.
During its operation, the incline had two primary stations – one at the bottom of the hill (near 61st Avenue West and Grand Avenue) and one at the top (near 77th Avenue West and Vinland Street). In 1982, a new station was built at the bottom of the Incline, where the Duluth streetcar tracks met Central Avenue. In response to this new construction, a story about this pavilion ran a story boasting the line: “…it reaches a beautiful plateau that overlooks West Duluth, all St. Louis Bay and much of the river, West Superior, much of Duluth, Duluth harbor, Minnesota Point and from which you can look out unto the lake as far as the eye can see.” A new pavilion was also planned for the top of the Incline in 1893, but was never constructed.
Many stories accompanied the Incline during its life. In 1902, two female passengers waited onboard an Incline car at the Central Avenue station for a connecting streetcar at 9 p.m. To close the Incline for the night, the Bayview power house operator threw the switch to return the still-occupied car toward Proctor. Startling the passengers and causing an unnecessary ride up the Incline, the situation was harmless, but inspired a story in the Duluth News Tribune a few days later with the following headline: “Several West Duluth women were abducted on a cable car Sunday evening by a man two miles away.” This incident also inspired the installation of telephones at stations and in cars later that year.
Other incidents were more serious. In 1907, 35-year-old Proctor resident Edward Burke was returning home on the Incline when he “in some way lost his balance,” fell 25 feet, and landed on rocks below the raised railway. He was taken by ambulance to Dr. Graham’s Hospital (in West Duluth) with what were thought to be internal injuries, but no broken bones. Pranks by children (i.e. greasing the rail lines) and inclement weather conditions almost caused more serious accidents. In 1901, two small boys placed “two or three good sized stones on the track,” nearly causing a derailment. In February 1904, icy waters from Kingsbury Creek formed ice over the cable grooves and tracks, closing down the line and forcing Proctor rail workers from West Duluth to navigate the hill on foot. And in 1909, a storm in July washed out a portion of the rail bed, closing down the line until September. A story on this event reported that “every heavy storm causes damage and involves expenditure of large sums for repairs.” While the repairs were eventually made, it caused the Incline owners to question rebuilding at all.
Despite early success, the Incline suffered from lack of ridership and ceased operation in 1916. But today, the power line corridor connecting West Duluth and the Bayview Heights neighborhood preserves the Bay View Incline’s former corridor.