HISTORIC FEATS: The Haunted Hoosac Tunnel

The modern world didn’t just happen. It was built. Built by men and women who understood the value of hard work and overcoming the impossible to accomplish Historic Feats. Those are our kind of people. To celebrate them and their accomplishments, OXX is taking a closer look at some of the greatest feats of human ingenuity that America has ever seen. 

Digging a tunnel is not as easy as it might sound. Factor in the length you want to build the tunnel; what kind of tools you have on hand, and the rock you’re trying to bust through. Does tunnel diggin’ still sound like a piece of cake? (This is rhetorical; you should be answering “no”). That’s why you should be even more impressed with the Hoosac Tunnel in North Adams, Massachusetts. This almost 5 mile tunnel was finished in 1873 and is one of the oldest tunnels still in use today. This story of an engineering-underdog has been riddled with failure, hard work, and maybe even spooks. Whether you’re familiar with the Hoosac Tunnel or not, here are a few amazing facts about one of America’s oldest railroad tunnels.

1.) It took a LONG time to finish. 

The vision for the Hoosac Tunnel was simple—we’re going to build a tunnel to get the raw materials from the West to Boston where they can be manufactured into goods. The problem? A mountain. The Berkshire Mountain, to be exact. In 1851 construction on the tunnel began, with men attacking the mountain with hand drills and gunpowder. The pace of the tunnel project, nicknamed “The Great Bore,” was interrupted by the start of the Civil War in 1861. The project did not regain speed until 1866 when the war ended and more modern techniques were introduced. All in all, the project took over 24 years to complete.

 

Photo Courtesy of Infrastructure USA

 

2.) It taught us a lot about digging.

This was one of the first big-boy tunnels we had tried digging, and we weren’t all that efficient. On average, the crews were only boring about 60 feet a month. (At that pace, the tunnel would have taken 35 years just to dig!) When the construction crews introduced nitroglycerin and the compressed air drill to the project, the drilling took on a new life and hastened the project along.

 

Photo Courtesy of Boudillion.com
Photo Courtesy of Boudillion.com

 

 

3.) It’s gotta be haunted. 

Another nickname the Hoosac Tunnel earned was “The Bloody Pit.” 195 men lost their lives from explosions of gunpowder and the unstable nitroglycerin during the tunnel’s construction. But in October of 1867, 13 men lost their lives when fumes from a gas lamp ignited with a candle, which exploded and lit the scaffolding the men had been working on ablaze. As the scaffolding fell, debris in the Central Shaft fell, burying the men. Following the explosion and collapse, the pumps within the shaft started pouring water into the tunnel and bringing floating bodies to the surface. Today, many stories exist telling of ghosts who walk the tracks of the tunnel, and some say that at night you can still hear the moans of the men who never left.

Photo Courtesy of WowAmazing.com

With it’s dark history full of tragedy and triumphs, the Hoosac Tunnel was a show of perseverance. We have the Hoosac Tunnel to thank for many of the techniques used in later great engineering feats like the Hoover Dam. To this day, the tunnel allows easy passage for freight trains traveling through the countryside. For a tunnel that’s over 140 years old, pretty good wouldn’t you say?