Near Glenita in Scott County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
The Natural Tunnel Route
The South Atlantic and Ohio Railroad began laying tracks through Natural Tunnel in 1882, connecting Bristol, Tennessee, with the coalfields of southwestern Virginia. The route became knows as the “Natural Tunnel Route” when the Virginia and Southwestern Railroad took over the line in 1899.
The trains carried passengers between Bristol, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky. Because of the tunnel’s uniqueness, most trains stopped and allowed passengers to visit the tunnel.
The pavilion depicted in the photograph was constructed to accommodate train passengers and other visitors to the tunnel. Over the years, everything from picnics to weddings to gambling took place here.
In 1905, President Roosevelt rode this route while researching the Wilderness Road for his book, The Winning of the West.
Use of the track for passenger trains ceased in the late 1940s. Today the line is owned by Norfolk and Southern an carries an average of ten trains a day. Coal from the mines in southwestern
[caption] The first passenger coach over the Natural Tunnel Route between Bristol and Big Stone Gap, Virginia. This photograph was taken in March 1890 in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
[caption] Pavilion at Natural Tunnel, 1938.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Railroads & Streetcars. A significant historical year for this entry is 1882.
Location. 36° 42.082′ N, 82° 44.68′ W. Marker is near Glenita, Virginia, in Scott County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Sunbright Highway (County Route 871) and County Route 646. It is in Natural Tunnel State Park, at the kiosk at the viewing platform at the southern entrance to the tunnel on the floor of the natural amphitheatre. It can be reached on foot hiking down the footpath from the visitor’s center, or by taking the chair lift. There is a charge to park your car and a separate charge to use the chair lift. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Duffield VA 24244, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Carter’s Fort (approx. 0.7 miles away); a different marker also named Carter’s Fort (approx. 1.4 miles away); Speers Ferry (approx. 3.2 miles away); Natural Tunnel: Railroading and Recreation (approx. 3.2 miles away); The Copper Creek Railroad TrestlesThe Wilderness Road Crossing of the Clinch River (approx. 3.2 miles away); Scott County / Lee County (approx. 7.3 miles away); Donelson’s Indian Line (approx. 8 miles away).
More about this marker. At the bottom of this interpretive panel are two photographs. The one on the left is captioned, “the first passenger coach over the Natural Tunnel Route between Bristol and Big Stone Gap, Virginia. This photograph was taken in March 1890 in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.” The second photograph is captioned, “Pavilion at Natural Tunnel, 1938.”
Regarding The Natural Tunnel Route. The tunnel is 838 feet long, following the curve of the railroad track. It is between 100 and 200 feet wide and between 50 and 80 feet tall. The south exit opens into an natural amphitheatre that is about 400 feet high and 400 feet wide. The north portal amphitheatre is approximately 250 feet high.
Also see . . .
1. Video of Norfolk Southern Train at Natural Tunnel. Train is heading north, with a string of empty coal hoppers. (Submitted on August 20, 2011.)
2. Natural Tunnel: Nature’s Marvel in Stone. 2004 book by Tony Scales on Amazon.com. “As evinced by old postcards, at least by 1906 a pavilion had been built at the South Portal of the Tunnel. ... with the pavilion, the South Portal became the party place and center for dances and galas. ... In these early tourist years, Natural Tunnel had a bit of a risqué reputation and apparently attracted rowdy crowds. The ‘refreshments on the train and at the Tunnel’ also included demijohns of the more potent variety, distilled in the surrounding hills and hollows, albeit they were supplied by some of the passengers.” (Submitted on August 20, 2011.)
1. 1925 Southern Railway Timetable
Southern Railway was in charge of this
Train No. 2 was Appalachia to Bristol, leaving Appalachia at 7:25 a.m., through the tunnel at 8:15 and arriving at Bristol at 10:35. It turned around as Train No. 3, leaving Bristol at 3:15 p.m., through the tunnel at around 5:30 and arrived at Appalachia at 6:30 p.m.
In Appalachia, arriving passengers could walk to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad station to continue their trip to Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio. In Bristol the Southern had trains with through cars north to Washington and New York and south to Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Birmingham, and New Orleans, while the Norfolk and Western could get you to Roanoke and other points in the Shenandoah Valley and into Maryland and Pennsylvania; to Lynchburg, Richmond and Norfolk; and to Salem
— Submitted August 21, 2011, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 16, 2021. It was originally submitted on August 20, 2011, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 1,207 times since then and 16 times this year. Last updated on February 16, 2021, by Carl Gordon Moore Jr. of North East, Maryland. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on August 20, 2011, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on October 3, 2014, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.