The picture below shows freight trains traveling on the Hoosac Tunnel.
The Hoosac Tunnel was first proposed in 1819 as a piece of a canal system running from Boston to Albany. The Hoosac Tunnel would be owned by Gilford Transportation and be considered a railroad tunnel in the Northern Berkshire towns of Florida and North Adams. However, the thought of building a tunnel of this magnitude and actually doing it were two totally different things. First, a civil engineer by the name of Loammi Baldwin was hired in 1825 to survey a route, but once he had made his observations of the course the project was put to a screeching halt due to the fact it was too costly and there were many doubts concerning its construction.
As of 1852 Alvah Crocker was able to secure a $2,000,000 loan from the state. With this loan the Troy & Greenfield Rail Road signed a contract with Edward W. Serrell & Co., of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, due to a failure to meet obligations put forth by the state, the contract with Serrell was forced to be cut off. As a result of the loss of Serrell’s company, Troy & Greenfield had to put forth different options. In the spring of 1956, Herman Haupt was signed on to the project for $3.9 million.
As construction continued under the supervision of Haupt, tunneling techniques were becoming a major problem. Porridge stone was discovered and it was beginning to crumble. A crucial financial issue then arose. Six to eight layers of brick would be needed to support the deteriorating portions of the tunnel. Another financial burden was the purchasing of a $25,000 stone cutting machine. This machine was built by Munn & Co of South Boston and was the first machine that would begin eating away at the east side of the mountain. It was said, Wilson’s Patented Stone-Cutting Machine was strong enough to cut a 24 foot tunnel through the entire mountain in 1,556 working days. This would be the second machine that would be needed as of 1852. After one test run, the decision was made not to use to machine. This would set back the progression of the tunnel, yet again.
At this point it was hard to believe that anything else could go wrong with the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel. Nonetheless, on August 18, 1862 Troy & Greenfield defaulted on its mortgage and the state was forced to take over the overseeing of the project by September 4th of the same year. Approximately six months later the state submitted a Feasibility Report which covered crucial points concerning the progress of this on going project.
The state could not take on the responsibility of managing the building of the Hoosac Tunnel, so on July 1, 1863 Thomas Doane was named the Chief Engineer. Doane’s first order of business was to dig a 27 x 15 foot Central Shaft 321 feet west of the original anticipated center. He ordered that teams of ten to fifteen miners work around the clock with the goal of sinking the shaft. As the Civil War approached the tunnels’ assembly was put on the back burner for yet another time.
The state, regardless of whether they decided to pass down the power of overseeing the project, did not go away. Their harassment concerning tunneling activities and the growing death rate forced Mr. Doane to resign from his position. It seemed as though it would be impossible to ever find a chief engineer passionate enough to finish the job. It was C.P Granger who would eventually take Doane’s place.
Aside from all of the negatives dealing with the Hoosac Tunnel, there were also a few aspects that could be considered positive. In 1866 Nitroglycerine was first used and this posed a huge advancement for the building process even though it was considered highly dangerous.
Headway on the tunnel was becoming and every day thing and by 1867 crews averaged about 80 to 100 feet per month. By July 31of the same year the Central Shaft was halfway finished. Not to mention, that in 1873 workers that had been working on both the east and west ends of the tunnel, finally met in the middle.
Years passed and it seemed as though, what was thought to be impossible would become a reality. On February 9, 1875 the first train passed through the Hoosac Tunnel and it was on July 1, 1876 that the state of Massachusetts officially opened the tunnel for public use.
* Photos 1 & 2: Courtesy of www.HoosacTunnel.net
Last Updated: April 29, 2008