We’re just north of the intersection of Highway 36 and Moreland Drive, near Colonial Heights (centers at 36.491976, -82.504663). The railroad goes under Ft. Henry
Drive (Highway 36) and into this 502′ tunnel, completed in 1912. Walking up to the tunnel, you can easily see how the highway overpass was added to when Ft. Henry Drive was taken to four lanes. Interestingly (to me), the railroad concrete bridge over Reedy Creek in Kingsport is dated 1907, and it’s on this line. North first, south later, I guess. Gray tunnel, also known as Free Hill tunnel, is next, close to the now long gone Gray Station. See you there.
If you’d been hanging out around this area in, say, 1777, you would have seen a fort down near the river, at a location that’s probably been obliterated by Tennessee Eastman or the plant that preceded it. That would have been Fort Patrick Henry (nowhere near the dam that carries the name). However, the tunnel wouldn’t have been here, since it was completed in
1927 1913 or so. There are just three more tunnels in Tennessee before the rail line heads into the Appalachian Mountains (and that’s ap-UH-latch-ian, not ap-UH-lace-ian) (’round here). This tunnel is 154′ long. First is the western portal, then a look back at the eastern portal. A bridge here (which can be clearly seen on Google Earth) overlooks the old Kingsport waterworks and the never-completed 3-C railbed. Over the river and on to Colonial Heights.
Finally! Thanks to diligent map work by my hiking buddy, a way was found to get to this northern portal of the other Sandy Ridge tunnel. It wasn’t easy. It was a bumpy drive down a long graveled road, across a strip mine, then down to the valley floor. After that, there was about 100′ to drop from the road to the last ledge before getting to the rail bed (the rails are long gone), then maybe 30′ of hanging from saplings and stretching to reach a foothold…from which I slipped and got my butt all muddy and wet (drove home sitting on a sheet of plastic…not the first time, either). Then, there was a slog through mud and running water to get just close enough to the portal to take the picture below. Not shown is the cataract coming down the right-hand side of the mountain…lots and lots of water. 1958 is the date on the lintel. Oh, and the climb back up the rock cut was even more fun. But I got the picture. Enjoy. Later note: I went back to near the tunnel entrance (I wasn’t even going to get down into that cut again) to do a proper GPS reading (my Garmin had, for some unknown reason, reset to a weird map datum the last time). Here it is: 37.037311, -82.189956. Going on back down the road, we found a place where a side road joins the railbed, now a rather dicey road of its own. The second picture is looking back toward the tunnel from the intersection. You would have problems walking in to the tunnel from here because of the large growths of wild roses and the average annoying briars. Back behind me, the road continues for maybe a half mile or so and ends at a strip mine.
There used to be an L&N rail line through Whitesburg KY. It’s gone now (the rails were pulled up in the late 80s), but this one tunnel and several deck girder bridges (constructed in 1912) remain. This unnamed tunnel (at 37.114941, -82.812306, more or less…couldn’t get an exact reading, since the tunnel cut is too narrow to allow a GPS reading and it’s difficult to see where the west portal is on Google Earth) is east of Whitesburg, near the city water works, through a ridge called “Tunnel Hill”. All the rails are gone and the tunnel is muddy as the Maytown tunnel is. It’s also short, maybe 150′ max. The first picture (say hello to Ranger, who manages to get in nearly every picture), is of the western portal (it’s unfinished, as is the eastern portal) and the next picture is looking out towards the east. It was just too wet to get through to the portal itself. The railbed from this tunnel on into Whitesburg (a neat little town) has been converted into a greenbelt. Judging by the rivet patterns on the bridges, the trains must have carried a fair amount of coal out of this area. (tip of the hat to Patty Hawkins and Lina Tidal of the Harry M. Caudill Library in Whitesburg for some of this information)