The Lake Shore Tunnel

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During the late 1860s, Oil City, Pennsylvania saw a frenzied rush by the railroads of the day to secure rights-of-way through what was at the time still a small borough. Getting trains north into the Oil Creek Valley and its surrounding boom towns was of paramount importance in the quickly expanding business of oil production, still in its infancy. The railroads were quickly replacing the need for horse-drawn wagons in the business of transporting oil the “old-fashioned” way, in wooden barrels. The ingenious Densmore tank rail cars were much more efficient for moving huge quantities of crude oil.

The tunnel ca. 1910

One of the late arrivals to the railroad scene was the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad. Their attempt to secure a right-of-way up into the Oil Creek Valley in front of the “Hogback” for their Jamestown & Franklin branch failed, leaving them no other option but to tunnel right through the mountain, just 300 feet within the hillside for a total length of ¼ mile. The tunnel was completed in 1870, at a cost of over $100,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today’s economy).

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Another view of the northern entrance/exit

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A view of the southern entrance/exit

The tunnel's northern entrance/exit as seen today.

The tunnel’s northern entrance/exit as seen today.

By the 1960s the tunnel had long since been abandoned, so the City of Oil City permanently sealed the southern entrance, which resides in the right-of-way for State Route 428. The northern entrance remains open, however over the past several decades, a gradual breakdown has been occurring 100 feet inside the entrance that has resulted in huge pieces of ceiling falling into a pile of rock 15 feet high. Original wooden timbers that once supported the ceiling are no longer connected to any rock at their tops. A coal seam is now visible above where the original ceiling once existed. As highway crews have pushed shale debris from the exterior hillside up against the entrance to the tunnel, a dam has been created, leaving seeping moisture within the tunnel with no escape. The result is an underground river, three feet deep, for the entire length of the tunnel. The rails have long since been removed, but most of the ties remain intact underneath the water.

Below are images from an expedition I made in 2006:

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Often in the winter, the tunnel becomes home to a spectacular display of natural ice formations. The brutally cold winter of 2013-14 provided the conditions for an incredible collection of these formations, as seen in the gallery below. Each photo is linked to an option to purchase a fine-art print in various sizes. (Your purchase helps support what I do and keeps this site expanding.)

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Comments

The Lake Shore Tunnel — 23 Comments

  1. I have always been intrigued by this tunnel, thanks for the interesting read, and as always, beautiful pictures.

  2. Very nice pics..my curiosity finally has been achieved about the inside of this tunnel!!! THANK YOU 🙂

  3. love this. we parked in front of this area to take pics of river/ice jam & my boys went right up to the entrance & we saw the most amazing view, took a few pics ourselves

  4. Great pictures of a historical part of Oil City ! Amazing how history can be preserved if it is ” just left alone”.

  5. I vaguely remember riding a passenger train trough this tunnel when I was very young, probably in the late 40’s. It must have been some type of excursion.

  6. Thank You for sharing your adventure and providing the history information Mike. The pictures of the ice formations are fantastic!

  7. Thank you for the pictures. I was born and raised in Oil City and have always been curious about what was inside that tunnel and the history of it. Thanks for the background and the pictures so I don’t have to venture in there myself!

  8. Love these pics!!! I grew up on Halyday Run & my dad would tell me stories of h walking through the tunnel !!! I just love the old pictures of our town & it’s history!!! Thank you for taking your time & sharing!!!!

    • It was not easy, trust me! There was a narrow passage between two columns that we just barely squeezed through. And once through, we had to slide down a mound of ice. Getting back out was particularly hard, because we had to make our way back up that mound. I wore Yaktraks; otherwise, I’d never have gotten out.

  9. Extremely interesting photos and history of the tunnel. I am so interested in these old tunnels and their history. It amazes me how they were built in the day of simple tools and engineering. How they knew exactly where to come out at the right height and at the right location always amazes me. Like at Kennerdale and Rockland, taking 6 miles off of the river and going through the mountain side and keeping the same elevation and making the curve. No computers, no lazers, just sweat and blood.
    Is there any remains or indication at all of the southern portal where 428 is now?

  10. thats awesome!! thanks I have gone by this hundreds of times-never knowing what it really was. next time I come home I will go and check it out

  11. Thanks for sharing these amazing pics! I got some shots that year, but none like yours! Hope to meet you some day. Be blessed! GDB

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