|From Tunnel Hill|
I got lucky this weekend past. I often put things on my list of possible stops along my travels and they are closed and I feel like a moron. But not so this past weekend, I took a two mile detour off 85 to visit a historic place on a day they are usually closed and I stumbled upon their ultimate celebration. I got this lucky in a cool little town a little under two hours Northwest of Atlanta on my way to Chattanooga. The town in question is the city of Tunnel Hill, Georgia and the sight I wished to encounter was their Great Tunnel
The tunnel runs 1477 feet through the Chetoogeta Mountain. It was completed in 1850 and served as the first rail tunnel through the Appalachian mountains and served to connect Augusta and the new town of Atlanta to the Tennessee Valley and up the Northern Coast. It was dedication in October of 1949 and the first train passed through on May 9, 1850. Prior to that railcars were literally portaged over the mountain. The tunnel over time became functionally small so a new tunnel was built a few hundred feet North of the original in 1928 and this one fell into disuse. The tracks were stripped out of it some years later and it was opened to the public in the year 2000.
We arrived on one of the few Sundays the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center was open. They were doing their annual Reenactment of the Battle of Tunnel Hill. We arrived near the end but the ordnance fire was loud and set a beautiful aural tone. There were all sorts of folks in period attire with a nice little market and some of the best handcrafted birch beer I ever drank. We crossed a small covered bridge on foot and made our way to the tunnel. You can now walk the 1500 feet through the old tunnel to the other side. It is a marvel of pre-civil war engineering and makes for cool shade on a hot Georgia day. It is reasonably well lit, but we sort of wished we had brought flashlights. On the other side of the tunnel there was a tremendous patch of kudzu in bloom, with a gorgeous sweet smell. You also get to tour the small railroad museum and walk very near the Clisby Austin House, a fine antebellum building.
Of keen interest here is the history. First there’s the railroad and the tunnel. Secondly, there’s the Civil War heritage. The Clisby Austin home served to house General Hood of the grey and General Sherman of the blue at different times. One of the quirkier landmarks I’ve seen is here and is the gravesite of General Hood’s Leg, which was blown off in battle. The Battle of Tunnel Hill is said to be the first skirmish of the Atlanta Campaign and the campaign was designed in the Clisby Austin home. The tunnel was also one of the targets of destruction by Andrews Raiders during what has become known as the Great Locomotive Chase, but their pursuers were too close by the time they passed through this site. Having all the confederate and union soldiers walking around really brought this history home.
The tour normally costs $5 (hours and admission). And you get to see all the sites mentioned. On the day we went, it was pretty crowded being the big reenactment day and all, but I imagine on normal days it could be quite tranquil and serene. And with its location so close to the 85 corridor, I mark Tunnel Hill as one of the best little roadside attractions I’ve encountered in Georgia, period.
Approximate Time: 1 hour
Approximate Distance: 1 mile
Features: Tunnel, Historic Building, Gravesite, Civil War history
Overall Rating: B
Scenic Quality: A
Hours of Operation: Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm
Facilities: At Railroad Museum
Maps: None needed