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March 20th, 2011

The Hoosac Tunnel is a railroad tunnel measuring 4.75 miles long which connects one valley to another. It is located in the Western part of the state in a mountainous area where Ma, N.Y, and Vermont meet. Hoosac is an old Native American name which means "people of the long house." It was in the early 1800's that manufacturers realized they needed some way to ship goods from Boston to Western Ma. and on to the Midwest. In 1848, Troy and Greenfield Railroad showed a deep interest in tunneling their way through nearly 5 miles of mountainous terrain. This monumental task was hindered by the fact that heavy equipment did not yet exist, and all work had to be done manually. On Jan.8, 1851 a secret groundbreaking took place under Rt.2 in North Adams, Ma. In 1854, a loan of 2 million dollars was received from the Commonwealth of Ma. to aid in the project. It was found that at the West Portal, the ground was like quicksand which hindered in the development. Bricks were used to line the tunnel because the rocks were so soft. The work was difficult and dangerous. It was not uncommon for the work mules below to not see the light of day for over a year. Many believed the tunnel was a waste of money and human suffering. Progress was slow because of the primitive use of explosives. At the time holes were hand drilled and filled with black powder. Once the explosives were lit, workers ran for their lives. The project had become a financial burden causing many investors to go bankrupt. In 1846, the state decided to operate the project. A Central Shaft was built with host buildings above to pump out steam, smoke and fumes by the use of fans.

Above the tunnel were built houses and schools for the miners and their families. When the tunnel was nearly half built on March 20, 1865, the first disaster hit. Three workers were using the" new" nitroglycerin. A huge explosion rocked the tunnel killing 2 of the explosive experts. The survivor was subject to many hearings concerning the disaster. After his testimony, he mysteriously disappeared. Exactly one year later, his strangled body was found at the site of the explosion. Legend has it that at that time, strange occurrences began to happen inside the Hoosac Tunnel. Later, 13 laborers were buried under tons of rock in a huge explosion. Until the body of the 13th man was recovered, many told of hearing groaning and crying from the Central part of the tunnel. Around 1868, strange lights were reportedly seen. Some believe them to be lanterns carried by workmen or trackwalkers. One report tells of the mysterious shape of a headless human who vanished into thin air. On Nov. 27,1873, the dedicated men finally holed through to the other side of the tunnel. Since that time, steam powered fans had been used for ventilation. In 1911, electricity was used to pull trains through the tunnel.

Although it has been said that 198 men had met their deaths in the tunnel, the identity of only 75 of the men is known. The final cost to build the tunnel was approximately 7 million dollars.

Members of the M.A.P.S. Team visited the Hoosac tunnel on March 20, 2011, at which time we left a bouquet of flowers in memory of those brave men who lost their lives over the span of approximately 20 years. At the opening of the East Portal , M.A.P.S. Team members did see what looked like cloud of mist hovering above them, and witnessed a distant light at the other end of the tunnel. Voices seemed to echo from inside the frigid darkness and a black shadow was seen passing back and forth across the tracks. The team was surprised to find that even today 4 or 5 trains travel these tracks on a daily basis. We were fortunate to experience this piece of preserved history.

Many thanks go out to the North Adams Historical Society for their hospitality and wealth of knowledge concerning the Hoosac Tunnel.

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