Friday, December 28, 2012

Mount Lowe Railway

The Mount Lowe Railway was the third in a series of scenic mountain railroads in America created as a tourist attraction on Echo Mountain and Mount Lowe, north of Los Angeles, California. The railway, originally incorporated by Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe as the Pasadena & Mt. Wilson Railroad Co.[1] existed from 1893 until its official abandonment in 1938, and had the distinction of being the only scenic mountain, electric traction (overhead electric trolley) railroad ever built in the United States. Lowe’s partner and engineer was David J. Macpherson, a civil engineer graduate of Cornell University. The Mount Lowe Railway was a fulfillment of 19th century Pasadenans' desire to have a scenic mountain railroad to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Railway opened on 4 July 1893, and consisted of nearly seven miles (11.2 km) of track starting in Altadena, California at a station called Mountain Junction. The railway climbed the steep Lake Avenue and crossed the Poppyfields into the Rubio Canyon. This part of the trip was called the Mountain Division.[2] At this juncture stood the Rubio Pavilion, a small 12-room hotel. From there the passengers transferred to a cable car funicular which climbed the Great Incline to the top of the Echo Mountain promontory.[3]
Atop Echo stood the magnificent 70-room Victorian hotel, the Echo Mountain House. Only a few hundred feet away stood the 40-room Echo Chalet which was ready for opening day. The complement of buildings on Echo included an astronomical observatory, car barns, dormitories and repair facilities, a casino and dance hall, and a menagerie of local fauna.[4] Passengers could then transfer to another trolley line, the Alpine Division, which would take them to the upper terminus at Crystal Springs and Ye Alpine Tavern, a 22-room Swiss Chalet hospice with a complement of amenities from tennis courts, to wading pools, to mule rides.[5]
For the seven years during which Lowe owned and operated the railway, it constantly ran into hard times. For one, its location was off the beaten path of the common traveler with little means of transportation up to the Altadena hillside.[6] For another, fares did not cover the cost of continuous construction done on money borrowed at 10½% interest, and the opening day fare of $5.00 would not remain attractive to the greater public.[7] Lowe went into receivership one or two times before losing the railway to Jared S. Torrance in 1899.[8] The tiny railway was purchased at auction by a Mr. Valentine Payton of Danville, Illinois[9] who, after only 14 months, sold it to Henry Huntington of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1902.[10] Huntington operated it as a fringe venture the rest of its days alongside his expansive Red Car system that covered the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas.
A series of natural disasters ate away at the facilities, the first of which was a kitchen fire that destroyed the Echo Mountain House in 1900.[11] A 1905 fire destroyed the rest of the Echo buildings except for the observatory and the astronomer's cabin.[12] In 1909 a flash flood tore out the Rubio Pavilion.[13] In 1928 a gale force wind toppled the observatory.[14] And in 1936 an electrical fire wiped out the Tavern.[15]
The Mount Lowe Railway was officially abandoned in 1938 after a horrendous rain washed most everything off the mountain sides.[16] Today, the ruins of Mount Lowe Railway remain as a monument to a once-ever experienced enterprise. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places on January 6, 1993.

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