The Swannanoa Tunnel Opens

Swannanoa Tunnel

On March 11, 1879, the Western North Carolina Railroad’s Swannanoa Tunnel opened. The tunnel opened the region to growth and freed it from its previous state of isolation.

Authorized by the General Assembly in 1855, construction of the tunnel was spurred by a drought in 1845. The drought resulted in a total crop failure on mountain farms, and pack trains and loaded wagons were unable to provide frontier families with enough food to carry them through to the next crop.

By the beginning of the Civil War, all but 70 miles of the route into Asheville was complete. During Reconstruction, the state secured $4 million in bonds for the completion of the project, but construction was delayed after key players embezzled some of the funds. It did not resume until 1877.

The General Assembly approved the use of 500 convicts as laborers, and 125 men lost their lives in the course of the work. Though the tunnel was holed through in March 1879, it wasn’t until October 1880 that the tracks were clear and the first train from Salisbury entered Asheville.

Check out the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer for more awesome pieces of history from our transportation past.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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2 responses to “The Swannanoa Tunnel Opens”

  1. Rusty Frank says :

    We live in Montreat, love the trainwhistles, and went through the tunels on a special train from Salisbury to Asheville a couple of year ago. I knew nothing about the drought that initiated the political will to build the tunnels and rails.

    I have really enjoyed these interesting history blurbs…starts my day!

    Rusty Frank (Montreat)

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