The history of Tunnelton Tunnel (also known as The Big Tunnel) dates back to 1857 when it was built for Ohio and Mississippi Railway (O&M), a railroad that operated between Cincinnati, Ohio, and East St. Louis, Illinois.
The original tunnel was bore out of a limestone hill and measured 1731 feet long. Tunnelton Tunnel was said to be one of the toughest tunnelling project ever in Indiana due to the length of it; this was compounded by the curvature of the tunnel which made it impossible to see the lights at of both entrances at any point of the tunnel. As such, numerous miners were believed to have perished during the construction of Tunnelton Tunnel.
An inaugural run was held in 1856 when one of O&M ceremonial flat train passed through the Big Tunnel. On April 15, 1857, Tunnelton Tunnel was officially launched. An inscription “Big Tunnel” was craved into the tunnel’s arched entrance to signify its grandness; it was the longest tunnel in Indiana at that time.
Two years after the completion of the tunnel, the town of Tunnelton was formed. Originally a camp site for workers of Big Tunnel, Tunnelton grew into a local community in Guthrie Township, Lawrence County. It was named in honor of several railroad tunnels throughout Indiana. Over the years, Big Tunnel became synonymous with the community, hence the name Tunnelton Tunnel.
In 1882, the tragic Tunnelton Massacre happened. The incident reportedly happened when a gang of robbers was at a saloon in Fort Ritner, discussing their plans to kidnap Alfred Guthrie, Tunnelton’s Postmaster and owner of the town’s general store. Their conversation was overheard by a group of men, who proceeded to set an ambush in Tunnelton Tunnel. All of the 4 members of the gang were murdered and their bodies where buried in graves dug right next to the tracks.
Seven years later, Tunnelton Tunnel underwent a structural upgrade and was brick lined on the inside to prevent any potential collapse of the shaft. In 1899, a 1,700 feet companion tunnel known as the Little Tunnel was constructed into a cut.
Over the years, the tunnel was controlled by several railroad firms including Chesapeak and Ohio Railway, and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. At present, Tunnelton Tunnel is actively managed under CSX Transportation, a freight railroad that operates in eastern United States and parts of Canada’s Ontario and Quebec.
Hauntings at the Tunnel
The tunnel is reputed to be haunted by several paranormal entities, all of which were said to have suffered a horrible death in or near the tunnel.
The legend speaks of a group of ex-convicts who were ambushed, killed, and buried on a hill near Tunnelton Tunnel. During the construction of the tunnel, several bodies and caskets were dug out by the workers. Another rumor says that many of the prisoners who were killed during the tunnelling project were “conveniently” disposed in the surrounding grounds near the tunnel’s entrance. Today, visitors of the tunnel have reported hearing disembodied screams echoing from the inside of the tunnel as well as the nearby hills.
The most famous ghost of Tunnelton Tunnel is none other than the spirit of Henry Dixon, a night watchman who once worked in the tunnel. The lifeless body of Dixon was found inside the tunnel after he had failed to return to his post; he was found with a lethal wound to his head and his glowing lantern at the side of the track. Some believed that he was killed by two men who attempted to rob a girl near the Tunnelton Tunnel’s entrance but was stopped by Dixon. Till this day, the murder of Henry Dixon remains unsolved. Many claimed to have seen the forlorn ghost of Dixon wandering in the tunnel with his tunnel.
Another ghost that haunts the tunnel is said to be a worker who was crushed by a train. Along the length of the tunnel are several “dead man chambers”, which are dugouts carved from the walls of the tunnel. However, the worker had failed to reached the dead man chamber in time and was decapitated by a passing train. The apparition was frequently sighted by thrill-seekers (venturing into the tunnel) as a headless man holding a lantern in one hand and his head in another.
Death did not occur only inside the tunnel. Following the railway tracks to the north of the tunnel lies Devil’s Backbone, a spot that runs parallel to Fort Ritner Road. According to legend, a family was riding along the ridge when they lost control of their carriage. The whole family fell over the embankment and were crushed to death by the horses and the cart. Local lore says that if one is passing by Devil’s Backbone, he or she would hear the screeching screams of the family and the tumbling sounds of the carriage.
Is Tunnelton Tunnel Still in Use?
Tunnelton Tunnel is currently controlled by CSX Transportation and sees a couple of freight trains a week. In spite of it being an active tunnel, many still venture into the tunnel. In fact, it has become some sort of a rite of passage for inhabitants of Tunnelton. The tunnel is also visited by paranormal investigators and thrill seekers for its reported hauntings.
While the tunnel has several dead man chambers for safety, many who were in the cavities when a train passes describe it as a harrowing experience never to be repeated again.
Directions to Tunnelton Tunnel
Tunnelton Tunnel can be found in the township of Gunthrie in Lawrence County, Indiana. The main road of the community is Tunnelton Road.
To visit Tunnelton Tunnel from Tunnelton, drive southbound along Tunnelton Road till you reach a fork road just before crossing East Fork White River. Take the unmarked road (River Road) and drive for approximately 2.5 miles and you will reach the iconic entrance to The Big Tunnel. However, be careful should you decide to visit the tunnel. Several tourists have reported strange, unexplainable breakdowns while travelling along River Road to Tunnelton Tunnel. Some also claimed to have experienced an overwhelming sensation that ultimately caused them to turn around and head back to Tunnelton.