Wilkes Street Tunnel – Alexandria, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

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Wilkes Street Tunnel

This brick-lined pedestrian walkway was once a railway tunnel used during the Civil War.  


The Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia is packed with significant sites and artifacts, as echoes of the past dot the streets of this historical section. One intriguing vestige of this city’s past often overlooked is nestled in a town block, several blocks removed from the hustle and bustle of King Street.

At the corner of Wilkes Street and Royal Street is the entrance to a former railroad tunnel that belonged to Orange & Alexandria Railroad completed in 1856. It was used in both the Civil War and World War I as a major connector between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. 

The most intriguing thing about the tunnel is its design and appearance. The long entrance path is on a downward slope that slices right down the middle of Wilkes Street, which forms an upward slope that brackets the tunnel on either side, creating a neat optical effect.

In 1975, the train tracks were removed from the tunnel and a six-month restoration effort gave this fascinating passage new life as a beautiful pedestrian walkway. The tunnel is 170 feet long and features nicely preserved, vaulted walls of gray sandstone.

Some local residents believe the tunnel is haunted, however, the passage is well lit and safe to explore.

Know Before You Go

The main entrance to the tunnel is at the intersection of Wilkes St. and Royal St. If you walk east through the tunnel and follow the path through Windmill Hill Park and across South Lee Street, you can access the waterfront near Shipyard Park. The area offers some fantastic views of the Potomac River and Wilson Bridge.

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