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.
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).
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:
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.)