The clicking and clacking of iron wheels rolling across rails mixed with the chirping of a flock of birds that flew overhead. A small city sprawled out along the banks of the Mississippi. Downstream, emerald forests filled the horizon, seemingly never ending. Groups of Cumulous clouds billowed across a royal blue sky, completing the postcard like view. I stood on the top deck of the Fenelon Elevator Company, waiting to take a ride on what they claim to be the world’s shortest, steepest railroad. Expecting a quick trip after a short charge down the street, my plan was to ride this and then hit the road. Little did I know, I would end up spending hours discovering the town below.
A short history: The Fenelon Place Elevator was built by wealthy banker J.K Graves in 1882. He lived at the top of the hill, and worked at the bank at the bottom. Too engrossed with work to be bothered by the strenuous task of walking up the hill, this was his solution carrying him the 275 ft up the hill in just a few minutes. Sure beats slogging up while using your legs!
Originally powered by a steam winch, that version burned down a few years after being built and was replaced with the current railway system. After retiring and not having a use for the elevator anymore, Graves allowed a local coalition take over and operate the rails publicly for the steep price of a nickel, holding that price all the way into the 60’s when it doubled to a dime.
Hopping on the railcar immediately had me feeling like a late 19th century boss, even though by today’s standards the entire system is highly antiquated. Upon reaching the bottom, I hopped off, planning to take a short walk around the block before my return trip, but I felt a strange pull towards the downtown ahead of me.
It wasn’t as if it was bigger or more elaborate than your average major city suburb, but the old brick buildings called to me offering the ambiance of an old logging port town. Faded brick towers covered with murals lined the streets. Sidewalk sales burst out the doors of stores onto their porches, inviting people walking by to stop for a moment and browse.
Seconds turned to minutes and minutes turned to hours as I wandered the streets devoid of traffic. Before I knew it, I had reached the port at the Mississippi and took the opportunity to rest my legs on the river levee. A sea gull landed next to me, picking through sand, seemingly unperturbed by my presence. As I sat there, watching the roaring river in front of me, the world seemed so simple. So peaceful. Often in moments like this, I find myself suddenly distracted by thoughts of current events and the chaos of the modern world, yet this day it all seemed so far away.
After pondering for a bit, I decided that maybe that’s why towns like this still exist, to offer us an escape from the pandemonium of the modern world. I like to think about how things would change if we all took a moment to step back, and Dubuque seemed like the perfect place to do that. I’m probably being overly naive and a bit too optimistic. If you’re driving through though and need to charge, take a minute and stop to smell the roses down town. Maybe then, you can let me know if I’ve gone a bit crazy.
Closest Supercharger Dubuque IA 1 mi
400 S Locust St, Dubuque, IA 52003
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512 Fenelon Pl, Dubuque, IA 52001
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