Finding the Blue Ridge Tunnel Ruins

I asked Jean Bauer at the University of Virginia to search out the ruins of the Blue Ridge Tunnel near Crozet, Virginia, and to photograph the tunnel if she could locate it. I plan to include one image in my forthcoming book and hope to include more images in the Railroads site. At the time of its construction in 1850-54 the tunnel was the longest in the U.S. at 4,273 feet, and one of the longest in the world (see below for questions about the length). It was built with slave and Irish labor, a story not well known.

She has posted her adventure and some of the photographs on her blog — see “A Walk in the Woods” and her photographs of the Blue Ridge Tunnel.

The Wikipedia lat/long is incorrect. And Jean’s great images will give us some other views than the spooky image from the Library of Congress’s Historic American Engineering collection–where is that fog coming from!

Many of the records concerning this construction can be found at: Railroads and the Making of Modern America in the collection of Claudius Crozet’s correspondence and the payrolls of the Blue Ridge Railroad.

About William Thomas

William G. Thomas III is a professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities. He teaches digital humanities and digital history, 19th century U.S. history, the Civil War, and the history of slavery.
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3 Responses to Finding the Blue Ridge Tunnel Ruins

  1. Three different websites give the length of Crozet’s Tunnel variously as 4278 ft, 4281 ft and yours at 4263 ft. Why the difference, and why is yours correct?


    John McDaniel
    Knoxville, Tennessee

  2. wthomas says:

    Dear John,

    This is a great question. I have may have simply mistyped it here and will change it to 4,273 feet. When I check my research notes, I see that I have seen it referred to as both 4,262 feet and 4,273 feet.

    For my book just published I went with 4,273 feet. This was based on Dean Herrin, America Transformed: Engineering and Technology in the 19th Century (U.S. National Park Service, National Architectural and Engineering Records Division), p. 150, and Ed Lay’s The Architecture of Jefferson Country, p. 220. In addition, I used Robert F. Hunter and Edwin L. Dooley, Jr., Claudius Crozet: French Engineer in America, 1790-1864 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1989): 140-160 on the Blue Ridge Tunnel construction and Robert L. Barrett, “Claudius Crozet,” The National Railway Bulletin, vol. 67 no. 5 (2002).

    I also looked at the Crozet correspondence in the Board of Public Works, Library of Virginia, #216 Blue Ridge Railroad, Correspondence, 1854, Claudius Crozet to Board of Public Works. I believe that Crozet refers to the 4,273 foot length in his final report, but I would need to check my print copies and originals to confirm that.

    Your inquiry has prompted me to track this down.


    William G. Thomas

  3. thank you for all your efforts that you have put in this. Very interesting info. “Things have never been more like the way they are today in history.” by Dwight D Eisenhower.

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