The Hoosac Tunnel
In the north-western part of Massachusetts, where the mountains try to stop one from going farther, there is a great hole cut through them, called the Hoosac Tunnel.
It is probably the largest hole you ever saw; not that it is so very wide, for its width is only twenty-six feet, nor so very high, for its height is nearly four feet less, but that it is so very long. When we speak of its length we must leave feet for, miles; for if you go west by the Fitchburg railroad you will be four miles and three-quarters further on your journey when you leave. the tunnel than you were when you entered it. The tunnel is so often spoken of and is so well known, that the railroad line running through it is very frequently spoken of as the Hoosac Tunnel Route.
Why should everyone take so much interest in a hole, even a big hole, through the mountains? It certainly isn't because of its beauty, for though the approach to the tunnel on either side is through a country unsurpassed in scenery by anything at least in other portions of Massachusetts, the tunnel itself impresses one as being a rather damp and disagreeable place, and dark, too, notwithstanding the twelve hundred or more electric lights which make it possible for trains to be run in safety.
I think the reason why everybody knows about and is interested in the Hoosac Tunnel, is first because of its utility, and secondly because it is really so great a triumph of engineering skill. Before the tunnel was completed there were no direct means of communication with the West. The mountains were in the way; and to go around or over them, or to take some other circuitous route meant a decided loss of time and money.
Massachusetts is a great manufacturing State and its cities and towns are thriving business centres ; and, above all, the people are so wide-awake that they quickly realize the necessity of having the best possible facilities to further their trade with the rest of the country, especially so important a section as the West. What is true to-day was true as early as 1826, when the first propostion was made for a tunnels through the Hoosac mountain.
In 1855 the work was commenced, but the first attempts seem to have been made in a rather half-hearted way; for the greatness of the undertaking was discouraging, and then, too, it was still an open question who should assume the responsibility and raise funds sufficient to carry out the plans.
Between this year and 1862 several railroads were incorporated and were to have received very substantial aid from the State, but the good people in the towns and villages along the line could not be induced to subscribe very largely for the stock that was offered, and so the various companies, one after another, failed to meet the conditions they had agreed upon with the State, which required them to raise t good round sum of money to begin with.
The result was that, although the towns give a great many thousands of dollars and the Commonwealth seconded their efforts, the work went on but slowly and sometimes not at all, and I don't know that it would ever have been finished if, in 1862, the State had not assumed the whole control and began to push the work forward in good earnest.
When the State has a piece of work to be done, it lets it out to contractors, and they are always eager to secure it because the money is pretty sure to be forthcoming. In this case it took quite a fortune. You and I cannot realize how so many dollars would look. Did I tell you how many? Well, more than eight millions and a half were spent from first to last in the making of the Hoosac Tunnel; and not withstanding this great outlay and the use of
Powerful drills and other machinery adapted to the work, and the employment of large gangs of men, the tunnel was not completed until 1875 -twenty years after its commencement.
It was not merely that cuttings had to be made from both the eastern and, western sides of the mountain. ID fact, the first part of the work was that of sinking a shaft from the summit to the proposed centre of the tunnel, and this was naturally called the central shaft, and by means of it a very perfect ,system of ventilation was secured. When we remember the great labor of drilling so far through the solid rock, and all the obstacles that had to be overcome, is it not interesting to know how nearly the right direction was kept by the workmen on either side. For we are told that the two headings, as they were called, finally met; so perfectly had the work been done that the variation between them on the ground plan was less than an inch.
On April 5, 1875, the first freight train, consisting of twenty-two carloads of grain, passed through the tunnel; and only a few months litter, in October, a passenger train was sent by that line from Boston to Troy.
The advantage of this new means of communication with the West was speedily felt,-and even those who had the most faith in the extension of business that would result could hardly have foreseen to what an extent our Commonwealth would be enriched. Every year brings more of the products of the Western States to us, and sees our manufacturers in return filling large orders for their goods; and, whether for business or pleasure, a constantly increasing number of people, traveling cast or west, avail themselves of the direct route through the mountains
which the Hoosac Tunnel secures to them.