TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — Like so many other North Georgia towns, Tunnel Hill grew along the Western & Atlantic Railroad.
The railroad was authorized on Dec. 21, 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. At 11 a.m. on October 31, 1849, workers completed the headings for the tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain.
“It was a day long and anxiously looked for by the officers of the road, the contractors and workmen,” the Federal Union reported. “When the light first pierced through the aperture, we understand it was a moment of great rejoicing and that some rich scenes were enacted under the mountain.” In a letter published in the November 1, 1849, edition of the newspaper, William L. Mitchell said, “The excitement was so great that nothing could control it, all work was suspended, and the feeling to celebrate this peaceful victory over nature’s obstacles in some benefiting manner was universal.”
As work on the tunnel progressed, the town of Tunnel Hill grew up and in 1850 a train depot was erected. The tunnel formally opened for traffic on May 9, 1850.
“The stupendous monument of enterprise and skill in civil engineering … is at length completed,” the Southern Recorder newspaper of May 14, 1850, reported.
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.
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.
“The old tunnel … although not constructed in accordance with present engineering standards has, with proper care, stood the test of time and use for about 80 years,” The Atlanta Constitution quoted President J.B. Hill as saying during a ceremony for the new tunnel. “What progress in our civilization and industrial welfare could be told in the development of transportation alone as reflected in the improvements in train make-up and service now.”
He added: “No more important thing has occurred to the Western and Atlantic railroad than the building of the new tunnel, which is being opened to traffic today.”
On May 9, 2000, the 1850 tunnel reopened to commemorate the passageway’s 150th anniversary.
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: at 11 p.m., workers completed the first opening and brought about a night of celebration
- 1850: Historic train depot
- May 9, 1850: The first train passes through the tunnel, completing the rail link between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.
- April 12, 1862: The Andrews Raid passes through the tunnel
- 1926: Work begins on a second, larger tunnel
- Dec. 17, 1928: A larger, more modern tunnel opens and the historical 1850 tunnel closes
- May 9, 2000: The historical 1850 tunnel opens to commemorate its 150th anniversary
For more information on mishaps in Tunnel Hill over the years, click here.