“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Speers Ferry in Scott County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Natural Tunnel: Railroading and Recreation

Natural Tunnel: Railroading and Recreation Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain, September 5, 2010
1. Natural Tunnel: Railroading and Recreation Marker
Inscription.  As early as 1852, railroaders, local merchants, and mineral speculators knew Natural Tunnel would be the most economical rail route to the coal fields of Lee County and the western part of present day Wise County, because the Tunnel would let them by-pass the formidable barrier of Purchase Ridge. Between 1852 and 1890 several companies tired but failed to complete a line through the Tunnel. Then in 1890, the South Atlantic & Ohio Railroad finally pushed the line almost 900 feet through Natural Tunnel, connecting Big Stone Gap and Bristol (the lower trestle below you is that line). Use of Natural Tunnel saved the railroad an estimated half a million dollars. In 1906, the Southern Railway purchased controlling interest in the line. In the 1920s and '30s, the railroad touted itself as "The Natural Tunnel Route." The famous "Lonesome Pine Special" passed through the Tunnel daily until passenger service ended in 1939. In 1982, the Southern merged with Norfolk and Western to form Norfolk Southern, the present name of the railroad.

Natural Tunnel became a tourist attraction in 1899 when excursion trains began running through it. Dances were
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often held on the pavilion pictured above. The Natural Tunnel and Caverns Corporation began operating the tunnel for tourists in 1928. The Commonwealth of Virginia bought the property in 1967 and opened the Natural Tunnel State Park in 1971.

The chairlift at Natural Tunnel State Park allows visitors to ride to the tunnel. The Park also offers hiking, camping, swimming, picnicking, caving, and canoeing, and has a visitor center, a meeting center, an outdoor entertainment amphitheater, and a replica of the Wilderness Road Blockhouse. However the tunnel and its coal trains remain the primary draw of the Park.
Erected by Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation and Scott County Virginia.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Natural FeaturesRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical year for this entry is 1852.
Location. 36° 39.272′ N, 82° 44.81′ W. Marker is in Speers Ferry, Virginia, in Scott County. Marker is on Orby Cantrell Highway (U.S. 58), on the right when traveling north. Located at a pull off providing a view of the Clinch River and railroad bridges. 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 9 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Copper Creek Railroad Trestles (here, next to this marker); The Wilderness Road Crossing of the Clinch River
Markers at the Clinch River Pull-off image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain
2. Markers at the Clinch River Pull-off
(here, next to this marker); Speers Ferry (within shouting distance of this marker); Carter’s Fort (approx. 2.8 miles away); The Natural Tunnel Route (approx. 3.2 miles away); a different marker also named Carter’s Fort (approx. 4.6 miles away); Scott County / Lee County (approx. 8.1 miles away); Lee County / Scott County (approx. 8.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Speers Ferry.
Also see . . .  Natural Tunnel State Park. (Submitted on September 23, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on September 23, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 945 times since then and 33 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on September 23, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.

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Sep. 21, 2023