Central Shaft

   The Central Shaft of the Hoosac Tunnel was an important component of the Hoosac Tunnel's construction scheme, as well as post construction ventilation. Located 12,194 feet from the West Portal, and 12,837 feet from the East Portal (not quite the center, as that would have been too close to the Cold River for comfort). Work commenced on the 27x15 and 1028 foot deep shaft in 1863 under the supervision of Thomas Doane. After the shaft grew enough in depth, a several story tall wooden building housing the hoisting system was built to lower workers into the depths.

    On the afternoon of 10/17/1867 the most infamous and tragic accident during the tunnel's construction occurred. As thirteen miners descended the, at the time 583 foot deep shaft, another worker tinkered with an abandoned gasometer lamp. Flammable naphtha fumes leaked out and filled the hoist house. Somehow a spark was created and set the fumes and subsequently the building aflame. All the while the thirteen miners below were none the wiser. As the building burned more than 300 sharpened tools descended onto the miners, then the hoist mechanism, then the building itself. By 3:00am the smoke had cleared, and a miner by the name of Mallory volunteered to be lowered down to investigate and look for survivors. Lowered by rope Mallory descended down the shaft with 3 oil lanterns. As 2 lanterns died out he was pulled back up unconscious. Upon revival he gasp "No hope". Several bodies surfaced as the shaft filled with water. The remaining bodies would not be recovered until the shaft was pumped out and construction began again on 10/19/1868, a year later. As it turned out several miners were not killed instantly. They had built a raft, but were asphyxiated by the oxygen hungry fire. The unlucky contractor: Dull, Gowan & White promptly resigned after the incident.

     On 8/13/1870 the Central Shaft finally reached grade. The bucket system was replaced by a fixed guide elevator system. Information on the alignment difficulties can be found on the Alignment Towers page. Once the shaft was down to grade digging could begin on the east and west headings. Each heading sloped slightly downward at about 26 feet per mile so when the adits broke through, water would flow out the portals. Water removal was a major problem as the only way to remove it was to pump it up and out the 1028 foot deep shaft. The first adit to break through was the east heading on 12/12/1872. Water from the west portion could now be pumped over the center high point and allowed to flow out the East Portal. On 11/27/1873 the west heading broke through; successfully piercing the mountain.

    In 1899 The fumes from all the rail traffic inside the tunnel became such a problem that a 16' diameter steam powered fan was installed on the top of the Central Shaft. The bottom of the Central Shaft was widened, and a brick arching was installed over the original hole. Two ducts spiraled down from the sealed shaft and intersected the tunnel about 60 feet from each other on opposite sides. The idea here was to have the smoke pulled from the floor as well as the ceiling. A small room was also cut out of the rock on the north side for trackwalker and work crews. This room was and still is known affectionately as "Hoosac Hotel".

    In 1911 a building housing a new electric forced draft fan replaced the old wooden steam powered fan. The enclosure building allowed the fan to move much more air. In 1946 The single fan was replaced with the double fan system which is still in use today.



Basically what you need to do is get on to Rte 2 and go up the mountain to the town of Florida. Central Shaft Road is on the south side of Rte 2 near the North Adams border. Follow that road until you reach the Central Shaft Building which will be on your left after about 1.5 miles.

Map of routes to Central Shaft [Click to enlarge]


I do not have as many images for the Central Shaft as I do for most other pages, so you only get two categories. I have tried to order these chronologically, with a a little slack allowed for the newest pictures.

All images can be clicked to view a larger image (in some cases not much larger). 

19th Century
20th&21st Century



19th Century


A post card depicting the depth of Central Shaft at the time of the fire in 1867.

A pen and ink depicting the descent of Mallory after the destruction of the hoist house.

An old stereograph depicting the same thing as the above image. Mallory who I presume is at the end of the pier looks somewhat less excited about his descent than in the artist's drawing above.

A picture taken in 1868 showing the survey crew doing their work. I assume this was taken before the shaft work resumed in October 1868.

An old post card from around 1868. This is the new shaft building that replaced the destroyed one.

Central Shaft building, probably from around 1870.


Closer to the ground, also earlier (less buildings).

This exciting stereograph frame shows the stone structure used for determining the centerline when the shaft reached grade. The above 4 photos were all facing west along the line of the tunnel.

An impressive picture of the central shaft buildings. Look at all that wood! That is a lot of BTUs. This wood will be used to run the steam engines that run the elevators and the all important water pumps.

The Central Shaft after construction, probably taken around 1890, before the steam powered fan was installed. Looking NWW.




20th & 21st Century


The brand new double fan exhaust building as seen in 1947. Courtesy Jim Wright. Notice how well groomed everything is! Not anymore!

The blower as seen in 1957. The once white smoke guides have now blackened considerably. Still not much vegetation.


The Central Shaft fan building as seen in 1967. Trees are growing! Photo by Jeff Sumberg. (What are the odds that I have a picture from 1947, 57, and 67? I need to find one from 1977 now!)

Picture showing the same building around 2000. Trees certainly have grown a lot.

Early October 2005, the shrubbery in front of the building is making the building harder to photograph.

The exhaust itself. These fans make a terrible roar when they are on. You can hear the roar for at least 1/4 mile.

Yet another view.

The diesel exhaust has thoroughly coated all vegetation near the exhaust holes with carbon.

The corner of one of the old buildings. North side of the exhaust building.

One of many monstrous piles nearby. These piles continue on behind the building away from the road for quite a distance.

Looking down from atop a pile of spoilage.

A rare find! A rock with two holes! This was found quite a ways away from the shaft.


Copyright 2000 - 2005 Marc Howes
Trespassing is illegal and dangerous especially when inside the tunnel with a train! If you go inside and see a light run and hide! that is unless of course its the portal, then you don't have to run nor hide. Trains burn diesel fuel and produce among other things carbon monoxide and deafening amounts of noise! Trains also have people in them and people have eyes used for seeing things.. Like trespassers! Just be careful use your head and stay safe.