In the 1830s, the first inclined planes in the United States were completed in and around Cambria County, Pennsylvania, as part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. Over the coming decades, this technology was used to create no less than 17 inclined planes in Pittsburgh, which hauled people and freight up the city’s many hillsides.
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the narrow valley in which the city was located created problems for expansion. As a growing industrial city, Johnstown needed to find room to grow, and the hilltops near the city were the perfect choice.
The Johnstown Flood of 1889, which devastated the city and killed over 2,000 people, increased the desire for hilltop living.
The top of Yoder Hill to the west of the city was home to only a few farms, and the roads to the top were very difficult to navigate. The Cambria Iron Works decided to turn this land into a livable space for its workers.
In 1890, just a year after the devastating flood, work began on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, which was opened on June 1, 1891.
Originally known as the Cambria Inclined Plane, it rose 502 feet from downtown Johnstown to the top of Yoder Hill. Covering the vertical increase in only 896 feet, the incline has a grade of 70.9%, making it the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world 125 years after it was completed.
The completion of the Inclined Plane spurred development on Yoder Hill, and just a year after the incline’s completion, the borough of Westmont was incorporated.
Over the first 80 years of operation, 40 million trips were taken on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, include roughly 4,000 people who escaped from the 1936 flood in Johnstown. Today, the inclined plane is primarily used by tourists visiting the area to enjoy the beauty and nostalgia of the ride.
Rides to the top take 90 seconds, and offer impressive views of downtown Johnstown. Cars can still be taken on the incline and whisked to the top. Of course, if you’d rather drive, it takes about 10 minutes to get to the summit from downtown Johnstown.
At the top of the incline, there is a large observation deck which offers visitors a chance to see the amazing view. From here, you can see all of Johnstown and the valley created by the Little Conemaugh River and Stonycreek River.
On the outskirts of the city, the remains of industrial sites can be seen, including an old steel mill and Cambria Iron Works. In many respects, this view reminded me of what Pittsburgh must have looked like from the top of Mount Washington 100 years ago.
In addition to the outdoor observation deck, there are other things to do at the top of the Johnstown Inclined Plane. Visitors looking for a snack can get ice cream at the small stand next to the observation deck.
There is also a nice gift shop which sells incline memorabilia, Johnstown souvenirs, and snacks. From inside the gift shop, visitors can look through a window into the mechanical room. It’s very impressive to see the inner workings of this remarkable piece of engineering.
On the other side of the engine room is a small museum that tells a bit about the history of the inclined plane and Johnstown.
There is also a second small observation area next to the museum. While it is outdoors, the glass windows here provide a good place to stand if you should visit the incline on a rainy day.
Below the museum is Asiagos Tuscan Italian. This restaurant has windows that offer amazing views of the valley far below. It also features delicious Italian food. I had the chance to eat here during my time at the top of Yoder Hill and was very impressed at the quality of the food and service.
If you’re looking for a restaurant with a view, you can’t beat Asiagos.
Without a doubt, a ride on the Johnstown Inclined Plane should be on the bucket list for every Pennsylvania traveler. The combination of a fun ride, with the history behind it and the amazing view from the top makes this one of the best things to do in the Alleghenies region of Pennsylvania.
Note: My ride on the Johnstown Inclined Plane and my meal at Asiagos Tuscan Italian were hosted by the sites. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Johnstown Inclined Plane
Hours: Hours Vary. See Website.
Roundtrip Cost: Adults: $4, Children: $2.50
Address: 206 Johns Street