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 Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway (James Street Incline)

Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway (James Street Incline)

The first inclined railway in Hamilton was the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway (H&B), connecting the City of Hamilton at the top of James Street south with the township of Barton at Caledonia Rd (now Upper James St). The H&B was originally referred to by Hamiltonians as simply 'The Incline.' When the Mount Hamilton Incline Railway was opened in 1895, the H&B's common name was changed to 'The James Street Incline.'

The H&B 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 H&B 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 H&B operated as a tandem incline: as one car went down, the other went up.

Profile view of the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway.

Profile view of the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway, from the 1893 issue of Engineering News

Construction began in 1890, but legal and construction issues stretched construction over two years. The first power test was made around 6:30 pm on June 1 1892, with the hauling up of one of the cars to the top. The H&B 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 H&B then opened for service, and thousands of people rode the H&B 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 H&B 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.

Historical plaque in Southam Park commemorating the Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway.

The James Street Stairs

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

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

Old support base next to the stairs. September 18, 2014.

Another old support base next to the stairs

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.

On the left are the James Street Stairs; on the right are the remains of the inclined railway’s supports. December 19, 2001

Incline Railway support bases

Another view of the Incline Railway support bases going up the escarpment. November 13, 2009.

Close up of a support base

Close up of a support base. November 13, 2009.

Close up of a support base

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.

East pit support wall

The support wall on the east side of the pit. As shown in the photos above, the cars of the H&B 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 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

Historical photos

HBIR Commemorative plate

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."

One of the tickets used by the H&B (side A) One of the tickets used by the H&B (side B)

One of the tickets used by the H&B (side A), (side B)

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station.

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.

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station. Taken from an old postcard circa 1905

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station.

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station. The earliest postmark found for this card is October 7, 1925.

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station.

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station, from an unused postcard.

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station.

The Hamilton & Barton’s lower station. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 26, 1929.

The James Street Incline tracks

Tracks of the James Street incline, as seen from the lower station.(Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, used with permission)

The James Street Incline

The James Street Incline, from a postcard postmarked August 4, 1906

The James Street Incline

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. The earliest known use of this image on a postcard has a postmark of December 18, 1903.

The James Street Incline

The James Street Incline. The earliest postmark found for this card is November 27, 1906

Undated stereoscopic card of the James St Incline.

Undated stereoscopic card of the James St Incline.

Side view of the James Street Incline

Side view of the James Street Incline, from an unused photo postcard (from Vintage Postcards of Hamilton, used with permission)

Close up of one of the James Street Incline cars

Close up of one of the James Street Incline cars, from an unused photo postcard

Side view of the James Street Incline

Side view of the James Street Incline. The earliest postmark found for this card is September 4, 1908 (from Vintage Postcards of Hamilton, used with permission)

Side view of the James Street Incline in the 1890s

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

Side view of the James Street Incline in the 1920s. Note the automobile being carried.

Side view of the James Street Incline in 1930

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, from a postcard postmarked 1910.

The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton. The earliest postmark found for this card is 1910.

The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton.

The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton, along with the Mountain View Hotel. The earliest postmark found for this card is August 19, 1909.

The upper station of the Hamilton & Barton

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)

The site of the former upper station on March 6 1954

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 can't be linked to directly, but here's how to find it:

Visit the National Film Board of Canada Images Search page

  • on the NFB page, click 'More Options' below the search bar

  • in the field 'Shot ID', type 1346.

  • The full documentary is 8 minutes, 45 seconds. The Incline Railway appears at about 08:07:40:00 (for some reason this clip starts at 08:00:00:00)