In the early 1870s the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) (not on your Monopoly board, sorry!) needed to get coal from western (and West) Virginia down to Newport News. The C&O had a lot of experience blasting and tunneling through the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains, so when they came to Church Hill in Richmond, they must have thought, “Pft! We’re not going to be stopped by this measly little hill!” So they decided to build the Church Hill Tunnel.
Unfortunately, Richmond soil is not at all like the soil they had previously worked with. Western Virginia soil was mainly hard bedrock (think The Rock and Sean Connery), whereas Richmond soil was mainly blue marl clay. (Think Demi Moore in Ghost.) In what should have been a foretelling of future events, the tunnel suffered from water leaking in and causing various cave-ins supposedly killing ten men before it’s completion in 1873.
The western entrance is shown here next to what used to be a warehouse, but (like just about every old warehouse) has been converted to loft apartments. The opening has been sealed since 1926. While I am sure the residents enjoy the swimming pool and barbecue area, it is a bit annoying to have one of our historic landmarks fenced in and inaccessible. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I managed to get in (with a happy beagle in tow) to get these pictures.
Is there anything in RVA YOU’D like to know more about? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’m always up for exploring our area. Even when it’s 106 outside with a 200% humidity!