Church Hill Tunnel Collapse


A disastrous collapse

Workers entombed in Church Hill railroad tunnel


Efforts to restore and re-open a 4,000-foot railroad tunnel built during Reconstruction met with disaster in October 1925 when the man-made cavern collapsed, killing at least three people.

The Church Hill Tunnel had been built in 1873 as a joint venture between the city and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. to connect the central city with the riverfront. It extended from 18th and Marshall streets to a point near 30th and Grace.

Oct 15, 2000

In October 1925, workers sank a rescue shaft at the site of a Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tunnel in the East End of Richmond.

C&O employed crews to restore and clean the tunnel and the stretch of railway. More than 200 men were working on the tunnel the afternoon of Oct. 2. About 3:30, a laborer noticed bricks falling from the roof and heard a cracking noise. He bolted for the western entrance as the roof fell behind him, pushing a powerful gust of air westward and sending other workers scurrying for daylight.

Nearly all the workers escaped with their lives. Among those who didn't was train engineer Tom Mason, who'd just parked 10 empty flatcars in the tunnel. He was buried alive in his locomotive. Also trapped was at least one black laborer. Another train operator, Benjamin Mosby, suffered serious burns and died hours later at Grace Hospital.

A man who tended the park on a hill above the tunnel made his way toward some nearby houses as the cracking sound began. The grass where he had stood just minutes before sank 20 feet into a crater of red dirt.

In the following days, newspaper reports at first reflected the hope that rescue workers might find the buried laborers alive. But it was soon clear to reporters and throngs of Richmonders who watched the efforts that any discoveries would be grim.

Mason's body was recovered more than a week later after workers sank a vertical shaft to the locomotive. At least one black laborer's body was left entombed in the collapsed tunnel. Some speculation puts the number of those left at two or higher.

Contact Calvin R. Trice at (540) 574-9977 or

gratefully reproduced from the Richmond Times Dispatch:
Richmond Times-Dispatch
2000, Richmond Newspapers Inc.

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