The Oakman tunnels

In the late 1800s, the Powell’s Valley Railroad made ambitious plans to run a line from Knoxville to Cumberland Gap.  This was in the waning heyday of Middlesboro KY, just on the other side of the Gap (Middlesboro sits in a meteor crater, btw).  The L&N was already in Middlesboro and was looking to get through the Gap to extend their line southward.  When the Powell’s Valley Railroad became the Knoxville-Cumberland Gap-Louisville railroad, the L&N talked them into blasting a tunnel through the Gap.  On the way from Knoxville, though, the line had to cross the Clinch River at this location.  A tunnel was dug through the ridge and a bridge was built and all was well…until TVA began to construct Norris Dam, which was completed in 1936.  The Southern Railroad, which now owned the line,  realized that their trackage here was too close to the water line, so a new tunnel and a new bridge had to be constructed.  These two portals are at 36.363018, -83.550292. The new tunnel is about 330′ long.  There was an historic community called “Oakman” about a mile to the southwest of this tunnel.  It’s gone, but the tunnel isn’t.  That’s how it goes sometimes. We’ll take a look at the other side next.

6 thoughts on “The Oakman tunnels

  1. Anonymous August 29, 2014 / 5:27 am

    Are you sure it was southern that owned the railroad or L@N

    • Bob Lawrence August 29, 2014 / 6:01 pm

      According to Maury Klein’s excellent book “History of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad” (ISBN 0-8131-2263-5), page 283, the L&N never owned the K.C.G.& L. That line went into receivership in 1892. L&N wanted it, but legal wrangling between that company and the Southern Railroad went on for three years before Southern finally prevailed.

      • Anonymous August 29, 2014 / 9:55 pm

        L@N still run freight through their didn’t they

  2. Anonymous August 29, 2014 / 9:58 pm

    Did L@N still travel the line

    • Bob Lawrence August 30, 2014 / 5:25 am

      As I understand it, there was interaction among most all of the railroad companies, just like there is today. It probably wasn’t unusual to see L&N units on Southern lines and vice versa.

  3. Sean Plankey April 5, 2023 / 10:51 am

    I’ve been through both of those tunnels. Very cool to understand WHY there are two of them. Grainger County north of Clinch Mtn is a unique world unto itself and Dutch Valley is one of my favorite spots. I imagine it to be as close to the “old Tennessee” as you can get.

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