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The Bigham Family
and the Inclined Planes of Mt. Washington and Duquesne
by Joe Hoesch, August 15, 2012
(I once lived in the 1849 Bigham Mansion (aka Woodlawn or Hill
Home) from 1943 to 1965 and recently got involved in a research
project on the family as part of Chatham Village's 75th
anniversary. Chatham Village was built on the Bigham estate
in the late 1920s to the mid 1930s. -- Joe Hoesch.
The Bigham family owned much of Mt. Washington and Duquesne Heights
in the mid-1800s. Their holdings, including property now
occupied by Chatham Village, was known as “Bigham’s Woods” from 1849
The Bigham Mansion, built in 1849 was known locally as “Woodlawn”
and was a station on the Underground Railroad providing refuge for
fugitive slaves in the 1850s and 1860s. The Bigham Mansion
still stands in Chatham Village and the historic home is now known
as Chatham Hall.
Thomas Bigham (1810-1884) an attorney and his wife Maria Louisa
Lewis Bigham (1819-1888) raised five children at Woodlawn. Mr.
Bigham’s sons, Joel (1847-1892) and Kirkpatrick (1851-1933) were
also attorneys and were largely responsible for building
Pittsburgh’s two remaining inclined planes. Both inclines are
functioning historic landmarks.
Mrs. Bigham was the granddaughter of Major Abraham
Kirkpatrick. Major Kirkpatrick was a Virginia officer in the
Continental Army and was the paymaster at Fort Pitt. He
relocated to Pittsburgh permanently in 1794 and purchased 714 acres
of hilltop property from the William Penn heirs that became Mt.
Washington and Duquesne Heights, some of which Mrs. Bigham
inherited. Major Kirkpatrick and his brother-in-law, General
John Neville upheld federal authority during the “Whiskey
Insurrection” of 1794.
The Monongahela Inclined Plane Company
The Mt. Washington Incline Plane Company was incorporated in 1854,
however it was unsuccessful in its goal, and another group was
formed. Under the skilled legal guidance of Joel Bigham, the
Monongahela Inclined Plane Company came into existence in April,
1867 with James Bailey as chairman and Joel’s father, Thomas J.
Bigham as secretary. Stock certificates were issued totaling
$50,000 to cover initial construction expenses.
Engineer John Enders was commissioned to design the incline in 1869
and his daughter Caroline Enders (1846-1930) assisted her father and
supervised the incline’s construction. A local newspaper
article made much of the fact that an unmarried woman would travel
from Cincinnati, Ohio and stay in a hotel unchaperoned and go to the
incline and direct the workmen, since working as an engineer was
considered an unusual occupation for a lady in those days.
Caroline Enders married fellow engineer Samuel Diescher (1839-1915)
in 1872. Mr. Diescher was an associate of Mr. Enders and is
generally not credited with the design of the Monongahela
(Passenger) Incline; however he did design the Monongahela Freight
Incline that ran immediately beside the passenger incline and later
designed the Duquesne Incline. Mr. and Mrs. Diescher made
their home on Mt Washington. It’s safe to assume they often
rode their creations when traveling to downtown Pittsburgh.
John Roebling, a prominent Pittsburgh engineer of Wheeling
Suspension Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge fame, drew up specifications
for the critical wire rope cable.
Originally powered by steam, the passenger incline was renovated and
the power system was electrified in 1935. The freight incline
was considered obsolete in 1935. By then, new roads were built
and trucks replaced the horse and wagon for hauling
goods. The freight incline was removed during the
The original Monongahela Incline passenger cars were replaced in
1983. Both the original and replacement cars were specifically
built for the incline.
The Monongahela Incline made its first trip on May 28, 1870.
Today it is owned and operated by the Allegheny County Port
Authority and is the steepest and oldest operating incline in the
The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company
Kirkpatrick Q. Bigham and his associates contracted Samuel Diescher
in 1874 to design and build the Duquesne Incline. Stock
certificates were issued for $47,000 to cover construction costs to
61 original stock holders, including Mr. Bigham. The incline
opened for business on May 20, 1877. Mr. Bigham served as
secretary of the company for 50 years, until 1927 when he was 76
The Duquesne Incline was built on property formerly occupied by a
coal lift that was in existence since 1854 and was owned by Abraham
Kirkpatrick Lewis (Mr. Bigham’s uncle) and connected High Street,
later known as Grandview Avenue, with Carson Street. Mr. Lewis
(1815-1860) was an attorney but abandoned a professional career and
devoted his whole energy to the coal business.
The labor intensive construction of the Duquesne Incline began in
1874 and included building both stations, installing hillside piers,
track, a steam engine and mechanical lift equipment in the upper
station, wire rope cables and the cars. The effort took
between 2 and 3 years to complete.
The supplier of the original Duquesne Incline passenger cars is
unknown. The cars were in service for a period of only 12
years, from 1877 to 1889. The J.G. Brill Company of
Philadelphia furnished the replacement cars in 1889. The cars
are still in use today and closely resemble the small horse-drawn
trolley cars that Brill built and sold in those days. The
interior of each incline car is very ornate with hand-carved cherry
panels trimmed with oak and birdseye maple.
The Duquesne Incline gave the workers of the growing hilltop
community of Union Borough, later Duquesne Heights, easy access to
downtown Pittsburgh and Andrew Carnegie’s Painter’s Steel Mill;
Clinton Iron Furnace and other industries that occupied the southern
shore of the Monongahela River in the mid 1800s. Prior to the
opening of the incline, the workers had to walk the mile long
“Indian Path” and wooden steps from High Street to Carson Street.
The Duquesne Incline’s power system was extensively renovated in
1932. The original Corliss steam engine was removed and
replaced by a safer and more reliable electrical system including a
DC drive motor, controls and safety equipment. In 1972, the
electrical equipment was updated when Westinghouse rectifiers
replaced the motor-generator that supplied electric power to the DC
The Duquesne Inclined Plane Co. operated from 1877 until 1962 when
it closed due to financial hardship. The Society for the
Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline stepped in and saved
the incline. They raised funds for the needed equipment
repairs and the incline reopened for business on July 1, 1963.
The Allegheny County Port Authority was required by law to purchase
the incline shortly after reopening and entered into a lease
agreement with the Society on January 7, 1965 that allowed the
incline’s rescuers to continue to operate the incline for one dollar
Today, the Duquesne Incline functions as a working historic landmark
that continues to fulfill its original purpose of providing daily
transportation for commuters traveling to downtown Pittsburgh.
It’s become a tourist attraction over the years for those who come
to see the spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh from the
Incline’s observation deck and to dine at the various excellent
restaurants on Grandview Avenue.
Both inclines are 19th century engineering marvels and a tribute to
the engineering skills of the designers and the wisdom of the Bigham
family to recognize that the hilltop communities of Union Borough
and Mt. Washington needed a form of transportation that provided
convenient access to Pittsburgh’s center of business, banking and
industry in order to grow and prosper.
The Society has carefully restored and maintained the Duquesne
Incline while keeping it as original as possible. The upper
station has a distinct historic flavor with old photographs and
antique memorabilia on display. A tour is available of the
room where the DC motor, controls and lift mechanism that powers the
incline are located. It is an opportunity to view electrical
and mechanical technology from the late 19th and early 20th century
that still functions perfectly today. The tender loving care
provided by the Society insures the Duquesne Incline will continue
to function with no end in sight and serve the community as it has
for more than 130 years.
The following quote is from Mr. Bigham’s niece, Mary Gibson of Upper
St. Clair in 2007: “I knew of the Duquesne Incline with Uncle
K.Q. In my childhood during the 1940s, there was a sign in
each car that was reputed to be his doing. The sign read: ‘Do
Not Smoke Here, Do Not Spit. Try To Be Clean.”
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