THE HOOSAC TUNNEL. This triumph of man over the power of nature needs no introduction to the American tourist. Those who pass through it in well-lighted coaches, and look into the outer darkness rendered visible by 1,200 electric lights that seem like fire-flies, little realize what years of toil, and what expenditure of money and of life, were needed to accomplish this gigantic undertaking.
A BIT OF HISTORY. About 1820 the project of building a canal from Boston to Albany was presented to the legislature, and it was agitated for many years, until railroads superseded the old-time canal for commercial purposes, and it was given up. In 1840 the Troy and Greenfield railroad was chartered, and plans were made for tunneling the great wall, the cost of that undertaking being estimated at less than two millions of dollars. Some experiments were tried, the most notable being that of boring the passage by means of an immense boring machine, which was dragged over the mountain on teams, and set up near the present eastern opening, where the shallow, curved cut that it made will always remain an exponent of failure.
THE BEGINNING OF THE WORK. In 1851 serious work began; the central shaft was dropped from the summit of the mountain 1,028 feet, the opening measuring 15 by 27 feet. The west shaft was sunk to the same level, 2,500 feet from the west end, this preparatory work requiring four years of continuous labor, and half a million dollars. These shafts, as well as the mouths of the projected tunnel, afforded means of working in each direction underground, with different gangs of men.
SETTLEMENT AT THE SHAFTS. Rows of cabins, not worthy the name of dwellings, cheap storehouses and boarding-houses, and great sheds for machinery were crowded about promiscuously. Hundreds of miners, in day shifts and night shifts, swarms of women and children about their squalid homes, unintelligible and uncouth language, heavy items, market wagons, wonderful machinery, store-houses containing the terror inspiring nitro-glycerine, all lent an air of excitement and expectation that those who now visit these deserted spots cannot easily fancy.
A TRIP TO THE CENTRAL SHAFT in those days was like visiting a mining region in the Alleghanies. There was the same dark pit, the iron cage, the rough-looking men in blackened garments, with torch lighted hats; the perilous descent into the bowels of the earth; there were also the same sad casualities, water to fight in the black pit, explosions, rending men as well as rocks into atoms, suffocation, drowning, and starvation, when help was cut off by the burning of the power-house over the shaft; then there were heroic endeavors to succor the entombed miners, the heart-rending scenes above, where weeping widows and fatherless children lamented piteously; all these things were, that the Hoosac Tunnel might be. The pioneer in great tunnels, this tunnel was projected, and commenced many years before Mont Anis, though the latter was completed first, and this made the stupendous engineering feat seem more audacious. Wiseacres said that it could never be completed owing to the unexpected hardness of the rock; certainly the invention of nitroglycerine, and its use under the supervision of Prof. George M. Mowbray, was practically indispensable to the accomplishment of the project. What a hush of expectation there was when it was rumored that the picks of workers from the central shaft towards the west were heard by men from the west shaft working eastward! Would they meet exactly? Was the surveyor's skill equal to this undertaking? All was well, and on Feb. 9, 1875, the first train of cars passed through the "hole in the wall," at great hazard from falling rocks.
COMPLETION OF THE TUNNEL. Later, when the necessity for arching was recognized, new forces were set at work, and an arch averaging two feet in thickness, requiring the laying of twenty millions of bricks, was built. Regular trains began to run in the autumn of 1876. The tunnel is 4 3/4 miles long, and 26 feet wide, the arch is from twenty-two to twenty-six feet high, having at either end handsome granite facades. It's actual cost was $20,241,842.31, and one hundred and ninety-five human lives. For some years previous to its completion the Fitchburg railroad ran from Greenfield to Hoosac Tunnel, and conveyed its passengers over the mountain to make the western connections. For many years the Fitchburg and other railroads ran their trains over the Troy and Greenfield road, which extended from Greenfield to a point two miles west of Williamstown, the Vermont line, and was commonly known as the state road. Jan. 1887, the Fitchburg road purchased the tunnel and the state road from the Commonwealth. The opening at the west shaft is now enclosed, and its sides are overgrown with tangled shrubs. At the central shaft air passages or flues extend from either side of the arch which form an outlet for smoke; while the top of it is surrounded by a massive wall.