PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
Los Angeles Times
Title: Sky-High Railroad
Barely a trace of the Mount Lowe Railway's former glory remains, but 10 stakes that detail portions of the line make for a moderate to difficult hike.
Date: December 18, 1992
Building a railway to the summit of Mount Lowe seemed a formidable task at the turn of the century. Nearly 100 years later, the "rail way to the clouds" still seems remarkable. Several fires eventually shut down the line, but the 7-mile round-trip route can still be hiked today.
Upon completion in 1897, stations along the railway featured a luxurious 70-room hotel, dance hall, tavern, zoo, observatory and engineering feats never before attempted. Dubbed the Mount Lowe Railway after entrepreneur Thaddeus Lowe, who created the project with engineer David MacPherson, the electric trolley car line was among Southern California's most popular attractions.
You will find barely a trace of the railway's former glory, save 10 railroad stakes that detail portions of the moderate to difficult hike. The route's valuable track was removed during a World War II scrap-iron drive.
After entering the white gate at the route's beginning, hike 1 1/2 miles to a second white gate where you will find a location marker and route map. Within another half-mile, the asphalt road will end at what Lowe called the Cape of Good Hope, a poetic interpretation of steep canyon walls that round a bend.
The Cape of Good Hope is station 3 along the railway, which began at the summit of Echo Mountain, a 1-mile hike down the Echo Mountain trail, just southeast of the Cape station. It was there Lowe built his White City in the 1890s, so named because the white electric lights of the hotel, observatory and power plant could be seen for miles. Two fires destroyed the structures in 1900 and 1905, but by then the line's new premier hotel, the Alpine Tavern, had been constructed at the railway's conclusion atop Mount Lowe.
Below Echo Mountain, the first leg of the railway ran through North Altadena's poppy fields. Construction of "The Great Incline," a cable-hoisting mechanism that hauled passengers one-half mile up to Echo Mountain, was completed in 1893.
In 1901, Henry E. Huntington, builder of the vast Southern California Pacific Electric railway network, bought the line--a logical mountainous extension of his "Big Red Cars" that roamed below. Huntington embarked on an ambitious rebuilding program, strengthening bridges and upgrading track. For the next three decades the Mount Lowe Railway was in its heyday, drawing thousands of visitors annually.
Continuing along the trail, station 4, Dawn Station, offers spectacular views of Millard Canyon. Ahead, Horseshoe Curve, station 5, helped the rail cars gather steam to climb out of the canyon. Conductors would jokingly ask passengers to lean forward to assist the engines.
Station 6, Circular Bridge, was considered a famous engineering landmark. The bridge, a near-perfect circle that swung out over the canyon, enabled the railway to ascend the upper reaches of Millard Canyon. Standing at the station marker, you can imagine the 400-foot-long curved track sweeping out into empty space over the cliffs. Passengers had a more precarious vista. Looking down, they stared into the depths of the canyon 1,000 feet below.
Station 7 offers an elevated view of Horseshoe Curve. Here, passengers viewed three levels of twisting track far below.
Sunset Point, Station 8, is found just before Granite Gate, where the railway bed was blasted out of granite walls. Alpine Tavern, Station 9, marks the end of the line. Opened Dec. 14, 1895, the tavern was flanked by bungalows and featured cozy rooms, a renowned dining room and parlor with a cavernous fireplace.
Disaster struck Sept. 15, 1936, when fire destroyed the buildings. Pacific Electric planned on rebuilding the hotel, but the Depression's effects lingered, and the railway's last excursion, organized by the Railroad Boosters, ran Dec. 5, 1937. The group's enthusiasm was washed out by rains in 1938 that obliterated major portions of the line. The ruins of the tavern and the White City were removed in the 1960s.
Inspiration Point, station 10, was a 10-minute walk from the end of the line to a shelter where sighting tubes enabled visitors to locate distant vistas, including Catalina Island. Some of the tubes still remain. Follow the path back down the hill to complete your trip.
Where to Go
Getting There: Travel east on the Foothill Freeway to Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena. Take a left, heading north for two miles to Loma Alta Drive. Take a right on Loma Alta for one mile to Chaney Trail, marked by a flashing yellow light. Take a left onto Chaney for one mile until you round a sharp curve. Park along the road and enter the large white gate found to the right of the curve.
Information: Angeles National Forest, (818) 574-5200
Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1992
Author: R. DANIEL FOSTER
Section: Valley Life
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES