Virginia Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
May 10, 2023
Department of Historic Resources
Marketing & Communications Manager
—The marker will highlight the tunnel’s construction and significance in the history of railway transportation in Virginia—
—Text of marker reproduced below—
RICHMOND – Next week a state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) will be dedicated that recalls the construction and historical value of the Blue Ridge Tunnel, which advanced Virginia’s rail transportation through the Blue Ridge Mountains starting in the third quarter of the 19th century.
The public dedication ceremony for the marker will be held Thursday, May 18, beginning at 2 p.m., at the marker’s location at 215 Afton Depot Lane in Afton, Virginia, on the grass lot adjacent to the on-site Eastern Trailhead Parking Lot.
Director of Parks and Recreation for Nelson County Jerry West will provide opening remarks at the ceremony. The event’s speakers will include Dwayne Jones, President of the Crozet Tunnel Foundation, and Ken Rutherford, a member of the Board of Historic Resources and DHR representative who will also lead the marker’s unveiling. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided at a social gathering set to take place after the dedication ceremony.
The ellipse-shaped, single-track Blue Ridge Tunnel is located beneath Rockfish Gap, where Interstate 64, U.S. Route 250, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail converge. Overseen by the Virginia Board of Public Works, the Blue Ridge Railroad Company began preliminary work on the railway tunnel in 1849 with Claudius Crozet (1789-1864) as the chief engineer. Irish immigrants and enslaved African Americans dug the tunnel using hand tools and black powder. When the tunnel opened for use in 1858, it spanned over 4,270 feet, making it the longest railroad tunnel in the United States during that time. In 1944, the tunnel was replaced by a new tunnel that ran parallel to it after the need to accommodate larger locomotives arose.
The American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the Blue Ridge Tunnel, also commonly known as the Crozet Tunnel, as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1976. In September 2022, the tunnel was listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register, and in April 2023 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently part of a 2.25-mile recreational hiking and biking trail in the Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District.
The marker for the Blue Ridge Tunnel was approved for manufacture and installation in 2022 by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers. The marker’s manufacturing costs were covered by its sponsor, the Crozet Tunnel Foundation.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1. It is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 state markers, mostly maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.
PLEASE NOTE: DHR creates markers not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, erected markers are not memorials.
Full Text of Marker:
Blue Ridge Tunnel
The Blue Ridge Tunnel, which opened to railroad traffic in 1858, lies beneath Rockfish Gap, where Interstate 64, U.S. Route 250, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail converge. The Blue Ridge Railroad Company, overseen by the Virginia Board of Public Works, began preliminary work on the project in 1849 with Claudius Crozet (1789-1864) as chief engineer. Irish laborers and enslaved African Americans built the ellipse-shaped, single-track tunnel using hand tools and black powder. At 4,273 feet, it was the longest railroad tunnel in the U.S. when completed. The need to accommodate larger locomotives led to the tunnel’s replacement in 1944.