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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Ridgecrest in Buncombe County, North Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)
 

Swannanoa Tunnel

 
 
Swannanoa Tunnel Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, May 19, 2012
1. Swannanoa Tunnel Marker
Inscription.
Longest (1,800 ft.) of 7
on railroad between
Old Fort and Asheville.
Constructed by convict
labor, 1877-79.
West entrance 300 yds. S.E.

 
Erected 2008 by North Carolina Office of Archives and History. (Marker Number P-46.)
 
Location. 35° 37.309′ N, 82° 16.32′ W. Marker is in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, in Buncombe County. Marker is at the intersection of Yates Avenue and Royal Gorge Road, on the right when traveling north on Yates Avenue. Touch for map. Located where Old US 70 changes to Royal Gorge Road, at Yates Avenue. Marker is in this post office area: Black Mountain NC 28711, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 4 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Swannanoa Gap Engagement (within shouting distance of this marker); Swannanoa Gap (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); Stoneman's Raid (approx. 0.4 miles away); Mount Mitchell Railroad (approx. 1.6 miles away); Andrews Geyser (approx. 2.7 miles away); Montreat College (approx. 2.8 miles away); André Michaux (approx. 2.8 miles away); a different marker also named Andrews Geyser (approx. 3.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Ridgecrest.
 
Regarding Swannanoa Tunnel.
Swannanoa Tunnel Marker seen at Royal Gorge Road image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, May 19, 2012
2. Swannanoa Tunnel Marker seen at Royal Gorge Road
Western North Carolina Railroad’s Swannanoa Tunnel opened on March 11, 1879. At a length of 1,800 feet, it was the longest of the seven tunnels on the railroad between Old Fort and Asheville. The milestone in the development of western North Carolina opened the region and released it from its state of isolation. Before the construction of the railroad, the Buncombe Turnpike was Western North Carolina’s primary connection to the outside world. When the drought of 1845 resulted in total crop failure for mountain farms, pack trains and loaded wagons were unable to provide the frontier families with enough food to carry them through to the next crop. As a consequence, political leaders in the mountains demanded that the state provide a railroad link to Asheville. Ten years later the General Assembly finally passed legislation for the construction of a western North Carolina railroad connection.

By the beginning of the Civil War, all but seventy miles of the route into Asheville was complete. During
Reconstruction, the state secured four million dollars in state bonds for the completion of the railroad. However, George W. Swepson, in his capacity as president of the western division of the Western North Carolina Railroad (WNCRR), and Milton S. Littlefield embezzled the bonds, further delaying the railroad’s completion. Construction of the railroad did not resume until
Swannanoa Tunnel Marker looking south along Yates Avenue image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, May 19, 2012
3. Swannanoa Tunnel Marker looking south along Yates Avenue
1877 when the WNCRR was organized with the state holding three-fourths of their stock. The General Assembly authorized the use of 500 convicts to provide the labor for the project.

James W. Wilson, who became president, superintendent, and chief engineer of the WNCRR, oversaw its completion. The hazardous construction involved drilling holes in the mountains of solid rock, blasting the rock, and removing the rubble. Wilson hired an engineer who introduced nitroglycerine as an explosive to replace black powder. The explosive paste that the engineer created using nitroglycerine, sawdust, and corn meal dislodged larger rocks. One hundred and twenty-five men lost their lives during the construction of the Swannanoa Tunnel. The tunnel was holed through on March 11, 1879. By October of 1880, the tracks were clear and the first train from Salisbury entered Asheville. Asheville was not the end of the line for the WNCRR, but rather it pushed farther down the French Broad River to Paint Rock and ended in Murphy in 1891. ( North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources)
 
Categories. Railroads & Streetcars
 
Track view from atop Swannanoa Tunnel , seen today image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, May 19, 2012
4. Track view from atop Swannanoa Tunnel , seen today
Swannanoa Tunnel image. Click for full size.
North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources
5. Swannanoa Tunnel
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on June 28, 2012, by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina. This page has been viewed 583 times since then and 57 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on June 28, 2012, by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina.   4. submitted on June 29, 2012, by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina.   5. submitted on June 28, 2012, by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina.
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