Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Descent Into Negro Mountain Tunnel

The Negro Mountain Tunnel is an unfinished South Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel. Work started on the tunnel around Christmas 1884 and ended abruptly in August 1885. It is one of the tunnels the Pennsylvania Turnpike didn't use when that route was charted using various other tunnels started by the South Penn.


Only 734 of the planned 1,100 feet were excavated for the tunnel when the plug was pulled on The South Pennsylvania Railroad in 1885. For more information on the South Pennsylvania check my earlier post here: or simply do a Google search. This railroad that never was has a very interesting story.


Things we expected to find in this tunnel, we didn't. Things we didn't expect to find, we did. For instance, we worked our way to the back of the tunnel expecting to find drill holes for the next blast. Instead we found all the debris from the last blast and it was just left there. They were working this tunnel until the word came down and they just quit. However, there were drill holes in the beginning. It looked like they were either widening the tunnel or the tunnel started wider and the plans changed. In this case there was no debris so the plans changing is the best bet. One thing we certainly didn't expect to find was a coal mine tunnel inside the railroad tunnel. There is a coal seam 2.5-3 feet thick running almost the entire length of the tunnel. Towards the middle of the tunnel we found a cinder block wall in the coal seam. A block was missing at the edge and when we shined a light through there we discovered a coal mine. After moving a block on the top we were able to put a camera back there. 


Lets look at the photos. 




This is off the road above the tunnel.

The tunnel sits down in this old cut. Most of the cut in front of the tunnel has been filled in. This area was strip mined. Amazingly the tunnel portal is not covered.

Lowering down into the tunnel.

The east portal. On the left is where the tunnel seemed to start wider.

Looking back into the tunnel. After this, there was about 4 inches of water on the floor but the edges were relatively dry. Not really dry, very muddy, but not saturated.

The shelf to the left of the opening.

Drill holes for the charges.

A.F. Mostoller who lived near Brotherton shot most of these charges and drove a dump cart.

Compare Larry from Johnstown to the size of the tunnel. It's pretty big.

Wood from 1885 still survives all through here.

Heading back.

This tunnel contains very rare cathedral ceilings. Most of the wood survives behind the frame.

The coal seam.

A look at the wood.

The back of the tunnel. Not a drill hole to be found.

Some of the wood frame laying on the tailings pile.

A photo of the three of us at the back of the tunnel. It didn't turn out very well. I like it though.

Russ and Larry poking around.

Looking out toward the front.

More wood supporting the cathedral ceiling.

The roof.

Looking up at the ceiling and out toward the entrance.

Wooden supports.

This is the block wall in the coal seam.

You can see the roofing timbers.

Coal mine!!

Another close up of the tunnel wall.

Ceiling. This section is kind of worn but considering its age, it's not too bad.

This is a survey marker from the original turnpike survey.

Heading out of the tunnel.


Until next time.....

A photo of a wind farm taken from the truck.

This is the railroad grade to the west of the tunnel.

An active strip mine.

On top of the grade west of the tunnel.

Old box culvert underneath the grade.

The other side of the culvert.

This is a grade east of the tunnel.

An old cut across from the grade.

On top of the grade.

This old arched culvert is amazing!

Perfect condition.

Looking out the other end.

Size comparison.

On the way back home we stopped along the turnpike to have a look at the Quemahoning Tunnel. This one looks a lot trickier. Another day.

This is 20 feet off of the turnpike.

Same design.


These are a couple of Russell Loves photos.


  1. Wow. You have outdone yourself.

  2. Thanks for the amazing photo journey. My ancestors worked in those western PA coal mines, and I was mesmerized trying to imagine what digging out the coal was like a century or so ago.

    1. Thanks for looking!! It is hard to imagine what that would have been like.

  3. Another fascinating find Mike! Amazing how well preserved the wood lining and timbers are in this tunnel. Love the old stone arch culvert. Some great workmanship of the stone masons.
    Eric Johnson

    1. Thanks Eric! What's amazing to me is all that work was done and the railroad was never even built. The South Penn Railroad is a very interesting subject.

  4. Mike- I wrote on another part of blog about Ralph Baggaley,my great great grandfather being investor in this project to bring product to market.Well,Mike you just took me inside just part of the project and it blows me away! The craftsmanship still standing over 115 years.also the train pillars still standing in Susquahana near Harrisburg astonishs me

  5. Totally cool thanks for your work and sharing it!

  6. This is stunning. I've done the Rays Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels a couple of times while riding the Abandoned Turnpike, but I never considered exploring this or the Quemahoning tunnels, mostly because I'm a chicken. Thanks for doing the legwork.

    1. Thanks! We stared at the Quemahoning for a while one day. That's completely flooded. We came up with a plan but it's just not very sane. One of these days maybe. The Quemahoning is also full of bats so there's that, the flooding but it needs to be done.

    2. I stopped one time at what I think is the correct place to park to explore the Negro Mountain Tunnel, but weren't equipped to down climb the hillside in the snow to get to the entrance. I hope that is the spot because I want to check it out this Spring. I'd love directions to the Quemahoning Tunnel - coming from Pittsburgh. And I love bats. But don't let the Game Commission know or they'll gate the tunnel.

    3. If you're heading west on the turnpike, pull over at mile marker 106.3 and look down over the hill. You'll see the Quemahoning's east portal going into the mountain parallel to the turnpike. I've looked down at it before but never went down to it. It's full of water. You can see the same wooden framework in there from the turnpike. It sounds like you were in the right place for the Negro Mountain Tunnel. It's definitely deep down in that hole.

  7. Do you have any idea where the original Allegheny mountain tunnel is? It's my understanding that the original was not used due to structural concerns.


    1. The original tunnel sits right next to the current tunnels. I guess it would be to the south of them. It's still there in all its unfinished glory. It's now a habitat for bats and is protected. So I guess it will be there until it collapses.

  8. The Allegheny mountain tunnel is to the north of the turnpike tunnels. I haven't visited it for about 30 years so no idea about the condition. I was never brave or equipped properly to go more than a few feet in. The floor is a jumble of pickup size boulders in a couple feet of water. You can reach it by turning off Rt31 at Deeters gap road. Bear left through the yellow gate then keep bearing right. The road is in good shape as the tunnel staff use it.

    1. It sits to the northeast of the tunnel entrances, you are correct. I opened google maps and went back in time until I found an aerial map in the winter, it's dated April, 2005 (so all the trees would be devoid of leaves and you can see the ground better) and sure enough, I found what appears to be an arch cut into the rock. I wish I could upload the image to share.

    2. Allow me to correct my blunder, it's northwest, not northeast.