The tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain in Tunnel Hill, Ga.
The tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain in Tunnel Hill, Ga.

TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — Tunnel Hill, like so many other north Georgia towns, grew along the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

Tunnel Hill Depot
The Western & Atlantic depot in Tunnel Hill, Ga., was built in 1848 and is one of the oldest in the state. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

The railroad was authorized in the 1836 by the Georgia state Legislature. It was intended to connect Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn. However, to complete the road, a tunnel through the Chetoogeta Mountain in North Georgia would have to be built.

Construction of the tunnel began on July 15, 1848 and the first train passed through the 1,447-foot long passageway on May 9, 1850. As work on the tunnel progressed, the town of Tunnel Hill grew up and in 1850 a train depot was erected.

In 1926, work on a second, larger tunnel began. The new tunnel opened two years later and rail traffic no longer used the historic 1850 tunnel.

On May 9, 2000, the 1850 tunnel reopened to commemorate the passageway’s 150th anniversary.

A nearby historical marker reads (some grammatical changes have been made):

“The 1447 foot long Chetoogeta Mountain railroad tunnel is one-half mile east of this marker. The tunnel was completed in 1850 and this opened the W&A RR from Atlanta to Chattanooga. This was the first railroad tunnel completed south of the Mason-Dixon line and linked railroads from the Atlantic to the Mississippi Rover. The railroad was operating during the late 1840s and goods and passengers were portaged over Chetoogeta Mountain while the tunnel was under construction. A community grew up near the construction activity and Clisby Austin built a three-story hotel in 1848. Tunnel Hill was incorporated on March 4, 1848. The W&A was approved by the Georgia Legislature in 1836 and surveyed by Stephen Harriman Long. Construction of the 137-mile line took 13 years and cost more than four million dollars. William L. Mitchell was Chief Engineer and William Gray was Chief Mason. Gray was given the honor of being the first to pass through the tunnel when the two headings were driven through on October 31, 1849. The tunnel was in use until larger locomotives and loads necessitated a larger tunnel in 1928.

“The tunnel played a role in one of the most colorful exploits of the Civil War, The Great Locomotive Chase, James J. Andrews and his band of Union ‘engine thieves’ raced the stolen General through the tunnel closely pursued by the Texas, under Wm. Fuller, and Confederate forces.”

A plaque on the west end of the tunnel reads:

“The Excavation of the west end begun July 15, 1848 & the first opening effected Oct. 31, 1848. The first train of cars passed through May 9, 1850. Length of excavation in this end 575 feet and of the tunnel 1477 feet.”

On April 12, 1862, members of the Andrews Raid passed through the tunnel, which was a primary target of the mission. However, because of a pursuing party, the raiders were unable to destroy the tunnel. A historical marker nearby the tunnel commemorates the raid.

Tunnel Hill Timeline:

  • 1836: Georgia state Legislature authorizes the Western & Atlantic Railroad.
  • July 15, 1848: Work begins on a tunnel through the Chetoogeta Mountain.
  • Oct. 31, 1848: The first opening effected.
  • 1850: Historic train depot.
  • May 9, 1850: The first train passes through the tunnel.
  • April 12, 1862: The Andrews Raid passes through the tunnel.
  • 1926: Work begins on a second, larger tunnel.
  • 1928: The larger tunnel opens and the historical 1850 tunnel closes.
  • May 9, 2000: The historical 1850 tunnel opens to commemorate its 150th anniversary.

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