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Most historical references put the cost at about $21 million, equivalent to more than 10 times that amount in today's dollars.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.