Now owned by CSX Transportation, Church Hill Tunnel was completed in 1875 for use by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. The tunnel was excavated and constructed to allow C&O trains to travel from the Shockoe Valley terminus in Downtown Richmond to the coal pier in Newport News. The city of Richmond along with Chesapeake & Ohio Railway opted to build the tunnel as a means to alleviate the woes of Richmond's rather hilly topography as well as prevent passing trains from becoming an increasing traffic headache for the residents of Richmond.
Unofficially nicknamed "The Tunnel of Death", the construction process was a tumultuous one - with countless railroad workers losing their lives to minor cave-ins and collapses and falling blindly to their untimely deaths through of the various shafts. The C&O Railway used Church Hill Tunnel for a number of years before deciding to abandon it for the new viaduct that had been constructed along the James River. The viaduct ran between Hollywood Cemetery and Downtown Richmond.
In 1925, The C&O Railway decided to resurrect the abandoned tunnel to accommodate increased loads. In order to return the tunnel not only to a functional state but to one that could accommodate wider loads, work began to widen the tunnel and reinforce it by further excavation and the installation of large concrete rings. However, it was the tunnel's infamous nickname that seemed to breathe new life. On October 2, 1925, engine 231 - operated by Tom Mason and fireman Benjamin Mosby - entered the tunnel pulling ten flat cars. The tunnel suddenly collapsed on top of them; trapping and killing several workers. Benjamin Mosby, though severely burned and wounded, managed to escape the tunnel through the eastern entrance. He later died of the injuries sustained in the collapse. To this day, Tom Mason and the 4-4-0 engine are entombed in the now sealed tunnel.
In 2014, the eastern entrance is now practically an urban legend - buried deep beneath woods, fallen trees and overgrown grass - it is completely hidden from view from any angle; including from neighboring Chimborazo Park.
Tragic as its history may be, Church Hill Tunnel is a large piece of Richmond's history - it was an attempt to bring Richmond to greatness after the Civil War at a time when a city's railroad capacity helped prove its worth. I do not want to see this tunnel continue to be engulfed by nature that has been left to her devices.
I am petitioning the CSX Transportation company to honor the memory of not only Tom Mason but the countless other lives lost in an endeavor that was never meant to be. By clearing a portion of the overgrown and unruly woods, installing concrete stairs that lead from the top of the hill to the tunnel entrance, placement of benches and markers that tell the dark story of Church Hill Tunnel, this area could be a park and a memorial of sorts - giving residents of Church Hill and Richmond a chance to learn of this incident and to remember who still remains within the tunnel.
I have started a gofundme page to help raise funds that can put towards making this dream of mine into a reality. The citizens of Richmond, especially native Richmonders, are proud of this city and it's long history - and we want to keep it alive.
Please sign this petition to let the CSX Transportation company know that you support the idea of Church Hill Tunnel Park and Memorial - and if you can, please make a donation to our crowdfunding page which can be found here: http://www.gofundme.com/8dy208
We, the undersigned, ask that the idea of repurposing the land that houses Church Hill Tunnel's eastern portal be explored. We believe a memorial for those who lost their lives to the tunnel's tragic collapse would be an excellent way to keep their memory alive and a piece of Richmond's history visible.
Stefanie Lacks started this petition with a single signature, and now has 233 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.