Q: I received a photo of a distant cousin on the Mill Mountain Incline. It would possibly have been taken around 1920. I didn't even know Mill Mountain had a tram. Do you know what years it was in operation?

Marcia Luzier, Dublin

A: The Mill Mountain Incline Railway opened in 1910 and, despite being a commercial flop almost from the start, remained open until 1929, according to Rand Dotson's book "Roanoke, Virginia: 1882-1912.

The incline's owners built all sorts of things at the top of the mountain, but it was never enough.

"[T]he much sought tourist trade never arrived," Dotson wrote. "[L]ocal patrons, after riding the railway once or twice, lost interest."

Bev Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation, was able to tell me where your cousin would have boarded the railway.

"The station was pretty neat and was on S. Jefferson Street very close to where the [Western Virginia] Water Authority Pumping Station is; next to the road going to the Emergency Room at [Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital]. The path up the mountain you see today is not the path the incline took, it was just to the north or left of the telephone/power poles you see today.

"On the mountain the station was between what is now the Welcome Center and the Mill Mountain Zoo but on the west side of the mountain, not where the Wildflower garden or current walkway to the zoo are located. The machinery building that contained the hoist machinery was at a right angle to the mountain top station and the foundations are still there today."

The railway used two cars connected by a cable. When one car went down, it helped to pull the other car up.

"Cost a lot less to have gravity helping with the lift," Fitzpatrick noted.

Why did it finally fail in 1929? Fitzpatrick and Dotson point to the creation of the automobile road up the mountain.

Dotson wrote that the railway was sold for scrap, but could one of the trams have been saved? Fitzpatrick told me there's a rumor "that one may exist in a barn somewhere in the region."

Despite the fate of the incline railway, there's an interest in trying again.

"It would mean less cars on the mountain and a trip back in history," wrote Fitzpatrick, noting that it could tie in to Roanoke's proposed streetcar system.

If you're of the same mind, you can join the 71 others who have supported the Bring Back the Mill Mountain Incline Facebook page.

Grammar Grumblings

This week we have another query from British transplant Julie Howson-Reinhart.

"I have wondered for a while now why Americans always say 'lighted' and never the word 'lit'. I realise [sic] that there are many differences between British English and American English but we never say 'lighted' over there. To me it sounds somewhat clumsy."

I see you also spell "realize" differently over there, too.

But I agree with you: "lighted" sounds clumsy. That's why I was surprised to learn from Virgil Cook, our Grammar Guru, that "lighted" is preferred to "lit."

Cook says either form is acceptable, however, and that " 'lit' fails to get on my nerves the way that the fading distinction between 'lie' and 'lay' does."


Readers, may I ask a small favor? If you e-mail me a question -- and I hope you will -- please put the topic in the subject line. Failing that, at least put something in the subject line so I'll know it's not spam.

Got a question? Got an answer? Call Tom Angleberger at 777-6476 or send an e-mail to tomangleberger@yahoo.com. Don't forget to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown. Look for Tom Angleberger's column on Mondays.

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