The five-mile-long Hoosac Tunnel’s eastern entrance emerges in Florida. The tunnel was designed to connnect commerce in Boston with the rest of the
The five-mile-long Hoosac Tunnel's eastern entrance emerges in Florida. The tunnel was designed to connnect commerce in Boston with the rest of the nation by breaking through the massive mountain that hampered its path. Photo by Caroline Bonnivier / Berkshire Eagle Staff

Tuesday, February 27
The Hoosac Tunnel's eastern portal is located in Florida by the Deerfield River. The famed underground railroad line — nearly five miles long — emerges just east of North Adams. Originally proposed in 1819 as a canal, the project finally came to life 30 years later as a crucial connection for the Troy and Greenfield Railroad Co., a northern competitor of the Boston and Albany Railroad (also known as the Western Railroad), the nation's first rail line.

Florida became a boom town as a staging area for the massive undertaking. Designed to break down the mountainous barrier that hampered commerce between Boston and the rest of the nation, construction began in 1851 and ended 24 years later with 195 lives lost in a series of fires, explosions and tunnel collapses.

The disasters earned the project nicknames such as "Abode of the Damned" and "The Bloody Pit." For decades, the tunnel was described in literature and magazine articles as "haunted."

Most historical references put the cost at about $21 million, equivalent to more than 10 times that amount in today's dollars. More than 1,000 men were employed in shifts around the clock, and the powerful explosive tri-nitroglycerin was used for the first time to blast through the rocky terrain. Two million tons of rocks were excavated; 20 million bricks were used for the arching. A rapid series of railroad ownership changes followed. The tunnel and Troy and Greenfield Railroad (which had gone bankrupt and was taken over by the state) were bought by the Fitchburg Railroad in 1877.

The Boston and Maine Railroad bought the Fitchburg Railroad in 1900. Passenger railroad service ended in 1958, but the tunnel remains in use as a freight line for the Guilford Rail System.

— Clarence Fanto