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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Alexandria, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Wilkes Street Tunnel

 
 
Wilkes Street Tunnel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
1. Wilkes Street Tunnel Marker
Inscription. The Wilkes Street Tunnel was part of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, founded in 1848 to promote trade with western Virginia. The Orange and Alexandria inaugurated its track in Alexandria on May 7, 1851 with a run to the north end of Union Street to the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Thus, the tunnel linked the railroad to warehouses and wharves along the waterfront. Located nearby, the Smith and Perkins foundry manufactured locomotives for the Orange and Alexandria and other railroads.

Wilkes Street Tunnel is typical of cut-and-cover tunnel construction. Presumably, the tunnel was cut through the bluff overlooking the Potomac River and covered to continue the streets above. After the sides were built up with stone, the arch probably was constructed over wood falsework from both sides using a centering technique to form the brick barrel vault. The tunnel was deepened after World War I to accommodate higher boxcars.

The Orange and Alexandria line was one of the many Alexandria railroads taken over by Union forces at the onset of the Civil War. While this northerly section of the railroad was incorporated into the U.S. Military Railroads, the length of track south of the Rappahannock River remained in Confederate hands.

Both sections played an major role in the strategies of North and South, as well as a decisive
Wilkes Street Tunnel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
2. Wilkes Street Tunnel Marker
element in the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. The Wilkes Street Tunnel gave Union Army access to the wharves for shipping military supplies on car ferries south of Aquia Creek, terminus of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad.

Shortly after the Civil War, the old Orange & Alexandria line was incorporated into the Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern Railway controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Wilkes Street Tunnel played a part in the rivalry between the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads for supremacy in the north-south trade across the Potomac River. The Pennsylvania Railroad acquired Congressional authorization for exclusive use of Long Bridge (14th Street). To maintain a competitive position, Baltimore & Ohio offered trans-Potomac service by way of carfloats linking Wilkes Street with Shepherd's Ferry on the Maryland shore until about 1906.

The Wilkes Street track continued in operation until 1975 when declining industrial activity along the waterfront no longer warranted rail service. The tunnel is significant today as Alexandria's only 19th century transportation site surviving intact.
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Orange and Alexandria Railroad marker series.
 
Location. 38° 48.005′ 
Wilkes Street Tunnel image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
3. Wilkes Street Tunnel
Passers-by struggle to read this well-worn marker at the west end of the tunnel.
N, 77° 2.666′ W. Marker is in Alexandria, Virginia. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Wilkes Street and South Royal Street, in the median. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Alexandria VA 22314, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Orange & Alexandria Roundhouse (here, next to this marker); Alexandria Railroads (here, next to this marker); First Presbyterian Church of Alexandria (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Saint Mary's Catholic Parish (about 700 feet away); "For God and Country" (approx. 0.2 miles away); Home of Dr. James Craik (approx. 0.2 miles away); Alexandria Academy (approx. 0.2 miles away); Saint Paul's Episcopal Church (approx. 0.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Alexandria.
 
Also see . . .
1. Wilkes Street tunnel is important piece of past. Historic Alexandria. (Submitted on March 16, 2014, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.) 

2. Wilkes Street Tunnel re-opens Saturday. October 6, 2008, article in the Alexandria Times (Submitted on March 16, 2014, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.) 
 
Categories. Man-Made FeaturesRailroads & StreetcarsWar, US Civil
 
Inside Wilkes Street Tunnel image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
4. Inside Wilkes Street Tunnel
Iron reinforcing ribs were added in 2008 to support the brick barrel vault.
Wilkes Street Tunnel Ceiling image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
5. Wilkes Street Tunnel Ceiling
Brick barrel vault with iron ribs.
Irish Nationalist Graffitti:<br>"Ireland 4 the Irish"<br>"Free Ulster" image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
6. Irish Nationalist Graffitti:
"Ireland 4 the Irish"
"Free Ulster"
On a dry-laid sandstone wall of the Wilkes Street Tunnel.
Wilkes Street Tunnel<br>East End (Lee Street) image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, March 15, 2014
7. Wilkes Street Tunnel
East End (Lee Street)
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 889 times since then and 51 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on , by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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