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Our view: Let Labor Day celebrate decline of the Incline

Today isn't only Labor Day; it's also the 70th anniversary of the last ride of Duluth's famous Incline Railway, a landmark for nearly half a century.

Today isn't only Labor Day; it's also the 70th anniversary of the last ride of Duluth's famous Incline Railway, a landmark for nearly half a century.

Rumbling across elevated dual tracks, the rail system and its cars -- large enough for four teams of horses with wagons -- were long the only connections to civilization for Duluth Heights-area residents. Built in 1891, the incline rose 500 feet, connecting downtown to then-new housing developments atop the hill. Rides offered breathtaking views.

A grand, multilevel pavilion was at the top of the incline. The DECC of its day, it hosted concerts, Vaudeville performances, parties and dances. However, in 1901, the pavilion caught fire and was destroyed, its blaze melting cables and sending cars, engulfed in flames, careening downhill, where they crashed into a rail yard. The pavilion was never replaced, and the incline, succumbing to the growing popularity of automobiles, carried its final passengers on Labor Day 1939.

A stairway remains, however. The same concrete steps that paralleled the incline still climb the Seventh Avenue West corridor from about Mesaba Avenue to Skyline Parkway.

Didn't know they were there? Few do. But that can change.

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In 2006, a baseball coach and Duluth-history enthusiast named Anthony Bush suggested in a News Tribune column the city designate the walkway as historic and affix interpretive signs at either end, perhaps with black-and-white photos of the old railway.

City councilors, members of the city's historic-preservation community and others immediately embraced the suggestion. Little has happened with the good idea, unfortunately. But it still could be pursued. The stairway, appropriately marked, could preserve and celebrate an important piece of Duluth's past -- on the Labor Day anniversaries of its demise and every day.

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