The Norwood Incline opened in 1901 and closed in 1923.
By Jamie Wiggan
The last remnant of the former Norwood Incline is still standing 99 years after the short-lived funicular made its final voyage up the steep hillside.
Perching atop a clump of crumbling steps, an elegant concrete shelter looks alone next to the empty square of dirt carved out by a recent demolition.
The building that once stood there, Boni Floral Shoppe, had fallen into disrepair after the McKees Rocks business was sold and relocated to Chartiers Avenue more than a decade ago. Bruce Boni, son of founders Joan and Richard Boni, said his family wanted the shelter to avoid this fate, which has claimed many of the surrounding structures along Island Avenue. As contractors began battering down brick, he instructed them to avoid harming the shelter.
“Pittsburgh is famous for its inclines, and we only have a few left,” Boni said. “For many Norwood residents, that was a primary way to get to and from work.”
According to Bernadette Agreen’s book "History of McKees Rocks and Stowe," when the Norwood Incline opened in 1901, its owner Charles Wesley Robison didn’t charge customers because he wanted to entice buyers for the residential lots he was marketing in the burgeoning Norwood neighborhood in Stowe. Two years later, he began charging a penny, and locals came to know it as the Penny Incline. The service ended in 1923, and the borough installed a concrete staircase along the disused line.
Because of this history, the Bonis now hope the iconic shelter can be preserved and showcased more prominently to residents and site-seeing visitors. Boni said his mother agreed to donate the property to the borough after leveling the building. While the details haven’t been finalized, McKees Rocks Council President Archie Brinza said the borough is eager to cooperate.
“With that part of the history, we want to preserve it as much as possible,” he said.
Sandy Saban, McKees Rocks Historical Society president, also expressed interest in facilitating the shelter’s preservation. She said the society is raising money to install historical markers and pedestals around the borough, and hopes to acquire an outdoor green space to showcase icons and monuments, such as the incline shelter.
“It’s still standing and all’s good,” she said. “We just need a place to put that where it's easily accessible, so people can read about it.”
Boni Floral Shoppe: 1952-2011
For more than 50 years, residents of McKees Rocks and beyond made Boni Floral Shoppe a go-to stop for weddings, funerals and other special occasions.
Richard Boni opened the original Island Avenue location in 1952 and ran the business with his wife Joan until his death in 2008. Joan Boni sold the business three years later, and a new proprietor kept the name going for several more years in a new location on Chartiers Avenue.
Magistrate Bruce Boni recalls fond memories growing up around his parents’ McKees Rocks business, where he would help with orders and take refuge in the large walk-in refrigerator during hot summer days.
“The flower shop was an important part of our family heritage and it was a very happy place,” he said.