Decline

Young passengers enjoying the Incline on a crisp day in 1946. Courtesy Beacon Historic Society

Young passengers enjoying the Incline on a crisp day in 1946.

Courtesy Beacon Historic Society

The 1930s and 1940s were decades of crisis in America, and the twin blows of depression and world war hurt tourism nationwide. The Mount Beacon Incline Railway was no exception: its ridership declined significantly during these years. It somehow survived these lean times, however, despite a second fire in 1934 that destroyed 480 feet of trackway and a third in 1936 that destroyed one railcar and 300 feet of track.


With the successful end of the war and the return of prosperity, however, the Incline seemed poised to enjoy new fortunes. It was still a technological marvel, remained in a beautiful and historic setting, and still had its Casino awaiting visitors at the summit. But there was another threat to its prosperity: the automobile. 
 
Cars provided Americans with the ability to see what they wanted, when they wanted. No longer were they constrained by steamship and trolley schedules. While these earlier modes of transportation had funneled visitors toward major attractions, they too were slowly killed off by America's love affair with the auto.


Without trolleys bringing visitors directly to the railway, billboards like this one were required to lure autos off nearby roads.

Without trolleys bringing visitors directly to the railway, billboards like this one were required to lure autos off nearby roads.

The fifties saw a steady flow of visitors to the Incline (as well as another fire in 1954), and business was sufficiently good for the railway's president, J.M. Lodge, to estimate that 1.5 million passengers had ridden the railway by 1959. The sale of the railway in 1960 by Mr. Lodge, however, was perhaps a sign that it was no longer as lucrative as it had once been.  A New York City-based business consortium named Mountaintop Lands Ltd. had grand plans for redevelopment of the mountain and railway, none of which ever materialized. But the Incline, by then clearly showing its years, continued to run.


By 1963, ridership of the Incline was down to 20-30,000 passengers annually. Declining revenue had the railway in a precarious situation, and the last thing it needed was another fire. Yet fire struck again on November 10, 1967, 40 years after the Beaconcrest Hotel had gone up in flames. This time it was the lower station that was destroyed, with a railway car burning up as well. The financial burden this placed upon the Incline's owners was so significant that no real capital improvements would ever be undertaken again, and service would become sporadic as the incline entered its last decade of activity: the seventies.

A rare color view of the cars passing on the turnout, circa 1950s. Notice that the summit-facing sides of each car was elongated, able to carry cargo and supplies to the mountaintop. The rear car was rebuilt without a roof after burning in 1936.

A rare color view of the cars passing on the turnout, circa 1950s. Notice that the summit-facing sides of each car was elongated, able to carry cargo and supplies to the mountaintop. The rear car was rebuilt without a roof after burning in 1936.