Home State historical marker for Blue Ridge Tunnel to be dedicated in Afton May 18
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State historical marker for Blue Ridge Tunnel to be dedicated in Afton May 18

Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail
Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail: Photo courtesy Jack Looney.

A state historical marker for the Blue Ridge Tunnel will be dedicated on Thursday, May 18, beginning at 2 p.m. The marker will be located at 215 Afton Depot Lane in Afton on the grass lot adjacent to the on-site Eastern Trailhead parking lot.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will recognize the tunnel for advancing Virginia’s rail transportation through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is currently part of a 2.25-mile recreational hiking and biking trail in the Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District.

Event speakers will include:

  • Jerry West, Nelson County Director of Parks and Recreation
  • Dwayne Jones, President of the Crozet Tunnel Foundation
  • Ken Rutherford, a member of the Board of Historic Resources and DHR representative

Light snacks and refreshments will be provided at a social gathering set to take place after the dedication ceremony.

History of the Blue Ridge Tunnel

The single-track Blue Ridge Tunnel is located beneath Rockfish Gap, where Interstate 64, U.S. Route 250, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail converge.

Overseen by the Virginia Board of Public Works, the Blue Ridge Railroad Company began preliminary work on the railway tunnel in 1849 with Claudius Crozet as the chief engineer.

Irish immigrants and enslaved African Americans dug the tunnel using hand tools and black powder. When the tunnel opened for use in 1858, it spanned more than 4,270 feet, making it the longest railroad tunnel in the United States during that time.

In 1944, the tunnel was replaced by a new tunnel that ran parallel to it after the need to accommodate larger locomotives arose.

Timeline

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the Blue Ridge Tunnel, also known as the Crozet Tunnel, as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1976.
  • In September 2022, the tunnel was listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register
  • In April 2023, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Historical marker

The marker for the Blue Ridge Tunnel was approved for manufacture and installation in 2022 by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers.

The marker reads: “The Blue Ridge Tunnel, which opened to railroad traffic in 1858, lies beneath Rockfish Gap, where Interstate 64, U.S. Route 250, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail converge. The Blue Ridge Railroad Company, overseen by the Virginia Board of Public Works, began preliminary work on the project in 1849 with Claudius Crozet (1789-1864) as chief engineer. Irish laborers and enslaved African Americans built the ellipse-shaped, single-track tunnel using hand tools and black powder. At 4,273 feet, it was the longest railroad tunnel in the U.S. when completed. The need to accommodate larger locomotives led to the tunnel’s replacement in 1944.”

The marker’s manufacturing costs were covered by the Crozet Tunnel Foundation.

There are more than 2,600 state markers, mostly maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.