The Hoosac Tunnel is a railway that burrows almost five miles through the Hoosac Mountain Range in western Massachusetts from the towns of North Adams on its west side, to Florida, Massachusetts to the east. Construction began on this large project in 1851 and finished in 1875. Over those 24 years, around 200 men died, giving it the nickname, “The Bloody Pit.”
One of the most chilling incidents was the central shaft accident. The tunnel has a 1,000-foot vertical chimney for exhaust to escape, and on October 17, 1867, fumes ignited, causing an explosion that destroyed a hoist used to lower men, equipment, and supplies. The accident rained equipment, supplies, and flaming hoist parts down onto 13 men who were working at the bottom of the 583-foot-deep unfinished chimney. The pumps were also destroyed, flooding the shaft.
The miners on the surface of the mountain, after various rescue attempts, believed nobody survived the accident. Months later, when they made it back to finish excavating the shaft, they grimly discovered that some had actually lived for a time, making a makeshift raft to deal with flooding.
Despite the death toll and other various setbacks, the tunnel was eventually completed and was used by both passenger and freight trains. Today, a few freight trains still use it.
Of the two portals of the Hoosac Tunnel, the east is easiest to see. At the intersection of Whitcomb Hill Road and River Road in Florida, take River Road northwest about half a mile until it crosses over a set of tracks. The tunnel entrance can be seen to the left. The tunnel’s west portal is located in North Adams. Off Church Street, which parallels the railroad tracks, close to where it intersects West Shaft Road, is a path through the woods. The west entrance is a third of a mile down it. There’s also a free museum that was a former railroad yard dedicated to the Hoosac Tunnel and the railroad industry at 115 State Street in North Adams.
Adapted with Permission from: The New England Grimpendium by J.W. Ocker