Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway (James Street Incline)
The first inclined railway in Hamilton was the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway (HBIR), connecting the City of Hamilton at a point next to the top of James Street south with the township of Barton at Caledonia Rd (now Upper James St). The HBIR was originally referred to by Hamiltonians as simply 'The Incline.' When the Mount Hamilton Incline Railway was opened in 1895, the HBIR's common name was changed to 'The James Street Incline.'
The HBIR consisted of two 10-ton cars measuring 11 x 4.25 m, running on a 213 m long track at a 31% grade. The cars carried passengers and wagons, for a maximum load of ten tons, 60 metres up to the top of the escarpment, next to the Mountain View Hotel. The upper station of the HBIR was a four storey brick building, which held a 125 hp steam engine, a 1500 gallon water tank, cable storage, ticket office, waiting room, and residence for the operating engineer and his family. The HBIR operated as a tandem incline: as one car went down, the other went up.
Profile view of the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway, from the 1893 issue of Engineering News
The roots of this project dated back to at least to the fall of 1888, when Hiram Broadbent (who would later become one of the HBIR's supporters) announced plans for an inclined railway, with help from interests in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city with several incline railways. At the time little interest was raised, with the Hamilton Spectator mockingly describing it as "the 113th attempt that has been made to build an inclined railway up the mountain"
The HBIR was founded on December 12 1889 at a meeting at St. Nicolas' Hotel on James street. A charter was applied for from the provincial government before Christmas, and was granted on April 7, 1890. Design of the railway took much of the summer and fall of 1890. Tenders for the construction were called for on October 3 and opened on October 21. The proposed construction costs were higher than expected, prompting some redesign. The largest change was to shorten the incline. Instead of running on an angle, directly connecting the end of James Street with Caledonia Rd, the incline railway would now run in line with Caledonia Rd, reaching the base of the escarpment roughly 35 m west of the intersection of James Street and Freeman Place.
Construction began on the HBIR on November 21 1890. A construction derrick collapsed on January 26 1891, badly injuring worker Alf Green and slightly injuring worker Dave Clark.
The Hamilton Bridge Works was awarded the contract for the steel superstructure. Thomas Whitney was awarded the contract for all grading and excavating, and began work on March 2.
The building of the HBIR meant the closing of the Aberdeen Ave/Concession St road allowance, blocking off the possibility of directly connecting the two road segments. At first the HBIR requested a 99 year lease on the road allowance, but later requested and was granted the property outright. This set off a protest from other local landowners who want the road allowance to remain intact. When the HBIR went ahead with construction the landowners filed an injunction, halting work on the incline on May 28. The injunction was overturned and work resumed on June 10. Ultimately the road allowance isue was resolved through arbitration, and a final agreement was reached between all parties on December 22.
Construction of the upper station began on February 22 1892. Horn & Son built the framing, while the brickwork was laid by George Hammell. The safety wheel arrived on May 20, and the two cars were assembled shortly after. The first power test was made around 6:30 pm on June 1, with the hauling up of one of the cars to the top. The second car was attached to the cable on June 3.
The HBIR opened to the public on June 11 1892. Starting at around 2:00 pm large crowds began to gatherat both stations. A preliminary run was made with 50 people at 2:45, with the official first car carrying city and company officials at 3:00 pm, taking 75 seconds for the trip up. The HBIR then opened for service, and thousands of people rode the HBIR that afternoon. The first day's operations were maared by foaming in the boiler, prompting an early shutdown of operations at 5 pm. The boiler was cleaned out, and service resumed on June 13 with no problems. The HBIR ran 6 days a week, 6:30 am to 10 pm.
Construction of new roads up the escarpment in the 1920s resulted in the company shutting down the line for financial reasons on December 26 1931. The line was reopened when the city of Hamilton agreed to cover operating losses of no more than $1000. Unfortunately the losses continued to mount, and the line was shut down permanently on May 14, 1932. The assets were seized in 1934 for owed taxes.
A near disaster occurred in January 1938, when one of the cables holding the upper car was severed in a bomb explosion set by a teenager. Fortunately the second cable held, preventing the car from rocketing down the hillside and crashing into the station below.
Several attempts were made to get the line running again, but they were all for naught. The track was dismantled in 1942, and the upper and lower stations were demolished in 1947.
As of November 2009, there are only a few remnants of the Hamilton & Barton Incline Railway. At the top of the railway in Southam Park is a historical plaque about the railway, and the structure in the park is designed to be a reminder of the Mountain View Hotel. Construction of the Claremont Access in the 1970s completely destroyed any traces of the upper station. A few of the supports for the trestle are visible a few metres west of the current James St stairs. As you walk down to James St, there is some half-buried brickwork where the lower station would have been, as well as a depression that would have held the cars. The site is currently being used as a natural regeneration area.
Janet Forjan-Freedman has a large number of postcards of the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway on her website
Historical plaque in Southam Park commemorating the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway.
The James Street Stairs, now on the site of the inclined railway. December 19, 2001
One of the former support bases was reused when the James St Stairs were installed in 1987. September 18, 2014.
Old support base next to the stairs. September 18, 2014.
Another old support base next to the stairs. September 18, 2014.
On the left are the James Street Stairs; on the right are the remains of the inclined railway’s supports. December 19, 2001
Another view of the Incline Railway support bases going up the escarpment. November 13, 2009.
Close up of a support base. November 13, 2009.
Another close up of a support base. The steel has rusted a lot in the decades since the line was removed, but a lot of detail is still visible. November 13, 2009.
The support wall on the east side of the pit. As shown in the photos above, the cars of the HBIR had long supports on the downward side to keep the cars level. At the bottom of the track, the supports would fit into a deep pit below the ground, so that passengers, wagons and cars could get on and off. November 13, 2009.
The base of the stairs. The lower station used to be in the open space between the trees. The remains of the pit where the cars would rest when they were at the bottom can still be seen, although partly filled in. December 19, 2001
A commemorative plate of the Hamilton & Barton Incline Railway. There is no maker's mark on the plate, but the plate is "a typical example of early 1900s German made souvenir china."
The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station, as seen from James St. The earliest postmark found for this card is June 19, 1906.
The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station. Taken from an old postcard circa 1905
The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station. The earliest postmark found for this card is October 7, 1925.
The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station, from an unused postcard.
The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 26, 1929.
The James Street Incline, from a postcard postmarked July 23, 1906
Side view of the James Street Incline, from a postcard. This image first appears in the pamphlet Hamilton: the Birmingham of Canada, published in 1892. As the car appears to be empty, it's possible that this is taken during the testing phase in early June 1892, before the incline went into service.
A postcard of both Incline Railways, copyright 1902. The earliest postmark found for this card is December 18, 1903.
The James Street Incline. The earliest postmark found for this card is November 27, 1906
Undated stereoscopic card of the James St Incline.
Close up of one of the James Street Incline cars. The earliest postmark found for this card is 1906
Close up of one of the James Street Incline cars.
Close up of one of the James Street Incline cars.
Side view of the James Street Incline in the 1890s (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
Side view of the James Street Incline in the 1920s. Note the automobile being carried.
Side view of the James Street Incline, in 1930 (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton. The earliest postmark found for this card is 1910.
The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton, along with the Mountain View Hotel. The earliest postmark found for this card is April 13, 1909.
The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton, next to the Mountain View Hotel (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
This is the site of the former upper station on March 6 1954. Everything in the foreground will be destroyed with the construction of the Claremont Access. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
A clip of the James St incline has been found online, inside a short 1929 film on Hamilton called 'The Ambitious City.' It is available on YouTube. It can also be found on the National Film Board of Canada Archives Search page
"Brief Local Items" October 29, 1888, pg 4
Mills, John M. Cataract Traction; The Railways of Hamilton. Toronto: Upper Canada Railway Society/Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association, 1971