North Adams, Mass. 01247

Compiled by Gary Smith, MLS ~ May 2003

(c) 2003 North Adams Public Library


First Page
Physical Description
Explanations and                       Abbreviations  
Notes on the Collection
Historical Notes
Materials Descriptions:
   Stereoviews: Card

   Stereoviews on paper
       (positive and negative prints)
   Engineering Drawings              and Statistics                                      (single sheets)
   Drawings and Printed                Illustrations
   Books, Pamphlets, and              Reports
      (cataloged in NAPL OPAC)
       (not cataloged in NAPL OPAC)

    (cataloged in NAPL OPAC)
     (not cataloged in NAPL OPAC)

     (cataloged in NAPL OPAC)

     (bound & cat. in NAPL OPAC)

  Letters (1875-1951)
  Newpaper Clippings and            Articles, etc. 
  Video Recordings
  Hoosac Tunnel Centennial       and Post-Centennial              Materials


         The Hoosac Tunnel was constructed from 1852 to 1873 through the Hoosac Mountain in northwestern Massachusets, between North Adams and the town of Florida.  It was conceived as part of a transportation link between the markets of Boston and the Midwest along the newly chartered Troy and Greenfield Railroad line.  The Hoosac Tunnel was controversial from its inception, and was fought over contentiously in the press and in the Massachusetts legislature, but upon completion it was celebrated as a triumph of engineering and vision.  At four and three quarter miles long, the Hoosac Tunnel was, at that time, the longest railroad tunnel in the United States, a distinction it retained until 1916. Construction inspired many innovations in rock excavation, including the use of pneumatic drills, nitroglycerin, and electric blasting caps.  However, it was plagued by financial problems from the beginning.  First estimated to cost $2 million, the total cost of the tunnel was more than $14 million.  195 workers were killed during its construction.  The last passenger train traversed the tunnel in 1958, but the tunnel is still an important link in the freight route from New England to the Midwest.
        The Hoosac Tunnel was originally conceived in 1819, before the era of railroads in the United States.  It was imagined as part of a canal through the Hoosac Mountain from Boston to Albany or Troy, New York.  Too difficult to construct, the idea was dropped, but it was soon revived when the Blackstone canal between Worcester, Massachusets and Providence, Rhode Island, encouraged shippers to bypass Boston, and the Erie and Chesapeake canals threatened to make New York and Baltimore more successful ports.  In 1829 the state of Massachusetts launched a study of how best to open a route from Boston to the west.  The study, by Loammi Baldwin, noted that a northern canal route running from Boston through Fitchburg and Greenfield, was, with its better river conditions, preferable to a southern route running through Worcester and Springfield.  However, the Hoosac Mountain, at five miles wide and 2,566 feet high, was considered too great an impediment, despite Baldwin's belief that a tunnel could be constructed.  A counter proposal involved a horse-powered railroad over the southern route.   In the end, the legislature shelved both ideas as too expensive. 
        In 1825, the first public railway using steam locomotives opened in Great Britain, and soon railways using steam engines began to transform transportation in the United States, the first line being the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (chartered 1827, opened 1830). Between 1830 and 1835, railway lines were chartered between Boston and the cities of Lowell, Providence, and Worcester.  In 1841 the Western Railroad running from Worcester to Albany opened for traffic, making it possible to travel by rail from Boston to Albany, New York, via Springfield and Pittsfield.  The residents of northern Massachusetts felt left out of whatever economic benefits were to be had from this, and began to lobby for a northern railway route.
The most important proponent of the northern route and the Hoosac Tunnel was Alvah Crocker (1801-1874), a paper manufacturer in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  In 1841 Crocker formed the Fitchburg Railroad (chartered 1842, opened 1845) between Boston and Fitchburg.  In 1844 Crocker incorporated the existing Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad, which ran from Fitchburg west to Greenfield, as well as northward (from Millers Falls) to Brattleboro, Vermont.  In 1848 Crocker secured from the legislature a charter for the Troy & Greenfield Railroad (T & G), with provisions for a tunnel through Hoosac Mountain. 
       The construction of the T & G Railroad began in North Adams on January 8, 1851.  The first actual tunneling began on what is called the "Little Tunnel", a 324- foot tunnel through a ledge in North Adams, on the railroad route leading to the west side of the Hoosac Mountain.   Conflicting but plausible reports claim that the Hoosac Tunnel was actually begun on the east side of the Hoosac Mountain in 1852.  On March 16th, 1853 an innovative tunneling method was initiated on the east side, using an immense cast iron boring machine invented by Charles Wilson.  Wilson's Patented Stone-Cutting Machine bored about ten feet into the hard rock and then ground to a halt, wedged into its own hole.  It remained stuck there while the T & G Railroad lobbied the Massachusetts legislature for a loan to continue the work. When work finally resumed after the 1854 "Tunnel Aid" bill, the tunneling was done with the traditional hand-drill and black powder method.
        The rock on the west side of the Hoosac Mountain is a mud-like substance called saprolite that will not retain any shape, so the workers were obliged to build timber roof supports while they dug ahead with shovels and blasted with black powder.  To make this support more permanent, B.N. Farren was contracted in 1859 to line the west end tunnel with stone arching.  Also in 1859, to speed up the work on the west end, chief engineer Hermann Haupt ordered a 318 foot vertical shaft dug 3,000 feet east of the original west opening down to the level of the tunnel, and the workers dug towards each other from the two faces.  (The project went through several Chief Engineers.  The first Chief Engineer was A.F. Edwards, followed in 1855 by Edward W. Serrell, and in 1856 by Hermann Haupt, who was followed by others.)
The Hoosac Tunnel was opposed by the management of the Western Railroad, which ran along the southern route through Springfield and Pittsfield.  Their champion political lobbyist and pamphleteer was Francis W. Bird, a paper manufacturer who competed directly with Crocker and who shipped his goods via the Western Railroad. Bird managed to get state funds for the tunnel stopped at a critical time in 1861, and thus to financially ruin engineer Hermann Haupt, who had invested his own money in the project.  Haupt stopped work on the tunnel and left the state for good.  (Haupt went on to become a successful engineer for the U.S. Military Railroads during the Civil War, but he never recovered emotionally from his drubbing in Massachusetts.) 
The problem of securing adequate funding had vexed Alvah Crocker's Troy & Greenfield Railroad throughout his stewardship of the tunnel project.  At first, Crocker tried to sell T & G stock, and in 1854 the company acquired a $2 million loan from the state of Massachusets, to be paid in installments, in order to build the tunnel.  However, in 1862, when T & G was unable to make payments on the state loan, the state foreclosed on T & G's  mortgage, and thenceforth the railroad and tunnel became the responsibility of the state.
        Engineers Thomas Doane, Charles Storrow, and James Laurie were hired to give their recommendations on the tunnel. Storrow was sent to Europe in 1862-1863 to study new tunneling methods. Their report submitted to the state in 1863 included recommendations for mechanical drills powered by compressed air rather than drilling by hand, the use of nitroglycerin instead of black powder, enlarging the tunnel to make it a double track and to accommodate the larger trains of the 1860s, and re-surveying the tunnel to make it straighter, thus moving the West Portal location.  The state legislature decided to continue the project in 1863, with Thomas Doane as chief engineer. 
        At the insistence of the supervising state engineer, William S. Whitwell, a Central Shaft 1,028 feet deep was begun in 1863 near the center of Hoosac Mountain in order to speed up the work.  Once the Central Shaft was completed, teams would be lowered down it and tunnel both eastward and westward from the center toward both entrances, while other teams worked inward from both the East and West Portals, hoping to meet their counterparts somewhere in the middle. 
In 1866 the first American pneumatic jackhammers, designed by Charles Burleigh, were used in the tunnel.  In the same year, Bernard N. Farren was hired by Thomas Doane to build multi-layered brick tubing to support the newly located West Portal and tunnel.
        Black powder was not a powerful enough explosive to crack some of the Hoosac Tunnel rock.  George M. Mowbray, a chemist who developed a new, safer form of nitroglycerin, was hired in 1867 to oversee the use of this more powerful explosive.  His nitroglycerin factory was built near the west end of the tunnel.   The nitroglycerin was ignited by newly developed electric exploders. 
        In 1867 Doane resigned as chief engineer and was replaced by W.P. Granger, whose tenure saw the worst disaster of the Hoosac Tunnel construction.  On October 17, 1867 an explosion set the wooden hoist building that stood over the Central Shaft on fire, and thirteen miners trapped inside the shaft were killed by falling debris and poison fumes.  With its pumps destroyed, the shaft filled with water that continuously filtered in from the mountainside.   The contractors quit, work on the shaft halted, and most of the bodies were not recovered from the flooded shaft until a year later.   Meanwhile, none other than Alvah Crocker was appointed as chairman of the state commisson on the Hoosac Tunnel. 
        In 1868 Massachusetts signed a contract with W & F [Walter and Francis] Shanly & Company to complete the tunnel.  Engineers employed by the state during the Shanly contract included Benjamin D. Frost (chief state engineer), F.D. Fisher (in charge of the West End), A.W. Locke (in charge of the East End), and Carl O. Wederkinch (in charge of the Central Shaft). 
        Work continued steadily from 1869 to 1872.  B.N. Farren's portion of the brick lining of the West End was completed in 1869, and the brick arching of the West End to the West Shaft was completed in 1872 by Hawkens & Holebrook Company, who worked under the Shanlys. The arched tube, ultimately 7,573 feet long was composed of more than 20 million bricks.
        The Central Shaft was finished in 1870.  Workers were thereafter lowered into the shaft to work on the two outward looking faces of rock.  On December 12, 1872, the remaining wall between the Central Shaft and the East End was blasted open.  On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1873, a final blast opened the remaining rock between the West End and the Central Shaft, and the Hoosac Tunnel was complete.
The West Portal façade was built in 1874 by C. McClallan & Son, under Walter Shanly's direction.  It added fifty feet to the length of the tunnel, so the final length of the tunnel is 25,081 feet, or 4.7501 miles.  Having completed the boring through the Hoosac Mountain, the Shanlys were anxious to leave the tunnel behind them, so on November 19, 1874 the Commonwealth of Maschusettes signed a new contract with B.N. Farren to complete the tunnel.  The final work consisted of enlarging some portions of the tunnel, reinforcing weak areas with arching, completing the drainage system, and finishing the East Portal façade, which was completed in 1877.  The first train passed through the tunnel on February 9, 1875.  Regular passenger service between Boston and Troy was instituted in 1876.
        The subsequent history of the tunnel may be told briefly.  In 1881 the single track was replaced with double tracking.  From 1876 to 1885 the Hoosac Tunnel and the T &G Railroad were operated by the state, but in 1887 both were bought by the Fitchburg Railroad.  In 1900 the Boston & Maine Railroad bought the Fitchburg Railroad, and in 1910 B & M came under the control of the New Haven Railroad.  (In 1983 B & M was purchased by Guilford Transportation Industries.)  In the winter of 1910-1911 the tunnel was electrified, and in 1911 electric train service began in the tunnel. In 1926 3,000 feet of the tunnel was deepened at the West End.  Diesel engines replaced electric trains after World War II.  The tunnel reverted to single tracking in 1957, and the last regularly scheduled passenger train went through the tunnel in 1958. The glory days of the tunnel had passed.
    November 27, 1973, one hundred years to the day since its opening, the Hoosac Tunnel Centennial was celebrated.  As part of the 1973 celebrations, the Hoosac Tunnel Centennial Committee (founded 1971) helped to organize special passenger train trips through the tunnel.  In the centennial year, the members of the Hoosac Tunnel Centennial Committee formed the Hoosac Tunnel Historical Association (incorporated Nov. 9, 1973), and under this new name continued to promote awareness of the tunnel. The chairman, treasurer, and secretary of both organizations were, respectively, Anthony Talarico, Howard D'Amico, and Ruth B. Browne, who was concurrently Director of the North Adams Public Library.  In November 27, 1973 the Hoosac Tunnel Historical Association dedicated a plaque in the city of North Adams in honor of the 195 workers who died during the construction of the tunnel.  In 1976, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the tunnel national landmark status, and placed a bronze plaque in honor of this on the East Portal. 
        The Hoosac Tunnel Museum opened in North Adams in 1980, initially housed in an old railroad car.  The museum is presently located in the Visitor's Center of the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, the site of renovated former railway station buildings.  
        At this time (2003), only a few trains pass through the Hoosac Tunnel daily, but the tunnel also serves a new function as a conduit for fiber optic cables that connect the information superhighway.   More importantly, the tunnel remains an impressive landmark in the history of nineteenth-century engineering, optimism, and commerce in Massachusetts.