NEW ALBANY —
Railways in the late 1800s had a way of expanding to some pretty remarkable places. Hills that once had to be circumvented were suddenly being burrowed through at ever-increasing lengths and depths.
In fact, nine different tunnels were built around this time on the Louisville, New Albany and St. Louis Air Line, four of which are still used.
Yet none of those could beat the Edwardsville Tunnel. Completed in 1881, the passage — also called the Duncan Tunnel — is the longest rail tunnel in Indiana. For nearly a mile, the path starts in Georgetown, descends 89 feet below the town of Edwardsville and ends in New Albany at the foot of the Knobs.
Developers early on saw the necessity and earning potential of a rail line that would connect St. Louis to New Albany. But big obstacles stood in their way, namely the hills. In addition to being long and deep, these knobs contained limestone, a strong, worthy adversary to workers attempting to dig the tunnel.
Construction of the marvel didn’t always go as planned. According to an article in the February 11, 1960, edition of the New Albany Valley News, work began on the project in 1870 but funding soon ran dry.
“The tunnel is 15 feet wide and 24 feet high. Cost of it has been estimated at a million dollars,” the 1960 news story said. “Records indicate that it is 4,689 feet long and that but 20 feet of this distance remained to be dug when the first company was forced to abandon the work for want of funds.”
Three years ago, local historian Vic Megenity discovered one of the first attempted tunnels. Close to the existing one, the abandoned passage was much shorter than the one the railroads currently use.
“They dug one tunnel and almost had it completed and it went bankrupt. So they brought another company in and they completed that tunnel but once they got it completed they thought, you know that’s not going to be the best way through that big hill,” Megenity said. “So another company came through and abandoned that first tunnel that was never used.”