The Old M&NA RR Tunnel

The Old M&NA RR Tunnel

The real name of the RR tunnel is Charcoal Gap Tunnel built in 1900. The Charcoal Gap Tunnel is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A. Although the large rock slide that blocks most of the portal at the eastern end precludes the tunnel from being eligible for listing in the National Register, The Charcoal Gap Tunnel is still an important part of Arkansas's Railroad past and is eligible for listing in the Arkansas Register.

On January 27, 1883, the citizens of Eureka Springs gathered at the newly constructed passenger depot to celebrate the completion of an 18.5 mile railroad line from Seligman, Missouri to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. On February 1, 1883, a schedule of six to nine trains a day began, many included Pullman parlor and sleeping cars. A continued future for Eureka Springs was secure. Records show that over the next four years, 27,783 passengers took the scenic and pleasant modern rail trip surrounded by wooded slopes, winding along dramatic cliffs, passing over rocky creek beds and through narrow passages. In 1899, a groups of capitalists from Little Rock, St. Louis, and New York decides that they would take on task of building a railroad line to Harrison and on May 17, 1899, the Arkansas Railroad Commission granted a charter to the St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad. Construction of the tunnel likely began late 1899 or early 1900, and required the blasting of a 600-foot long bore through the solid rock of the ridge. However, once construction began, it did not take long before the tunnel was finished. On March 22, 1901, the last spike was driven into the line at Harrison and the first train, consisting of a couple of flat cars of crossties pulled by Engine #3, was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd.

To help stabilize the soil at the western portal, the railroad built stone retaining walls out of rough-faced ashlars stone along the right-of-way for a short distance to the west of the tunnel. The retaining wall on the north side of the right-of-way is approximately 2 feet high, while the wall on the south side of the right-of-way is approximately 10 feet high. The south retaining wall also has holes built into it that appear to have been meant for additional bracing. However, similar measures were taken at the eastern portal. At least one rock slide occurred at the eastern end of the tunnel about 1950, trapping a train in the tunnel and closing the line until it could be cleared away. A much larger slide occurred sometime after the line was abandoned in 1961 blocking the majority of the eastern portal.

The rock slide at the eastern end of tunnel, trapping a train about 1950. (top center)

The eastern portal/side of the tunnel (I think).

Inside the tunnel looking out. (top left)

Inside view of tunnel. (top right)

Even though the construction of the St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad line into Harrison had been greatly supported by the local population, with some of them donating cash or land to the construction effort, the railroad struggled to make a profit. By 1906, the railroad owned several locomotives, five combination cars, four passenger coaches, and 26 freight cars, but it also had a deficit of more than $30,000 for the year. As a result, the railroad went out of business on August 4, 1906, and was soon reorganized to become the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad. The Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad, which would become the Missouri and Arkansas Railway in 1935, eventually expended the route southeast from Harrison until it reached Helena on the Mississippi River. Business for the line fluctuated, but generally remained fair until after World War II, when the railroad's employees demanded a wage increase of $0.18 1/2 an hour. The company was not able to afford the increase, and when the workers struck, the company immediately applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to abandon the line, and the ICC granted the request. Dismantling of the line began, After many protests were received concerning the dismantling of the line, a plan was developed in 1949 to split up the line and sell portions of it and abandon other sections. The section of the line between Seligman, Mo and Harrison, which included the Charcoal Gap Tunnel, came under the operating of the Arkansas & Ozarks Railroad, which was chartered on March 4, 1949. The formal opening ceremonies for the Arkansas & Ozarks Railroad were held on February 9, 1950, at the passenger depot in Harrison, but they not nearly as large an affair as the original opening of the line in 1901. Although traffic on the line during the early 1950s was good, by the late 1950s financial problems had once again set in. However, two events in 1960 eventually brought about the end of the line for the railroad. In the spring of 1960 flash flooding occurred on Lake Leatherwood Creek to the west of the Charcoal Gap Tunnel that wiped away trestles and some of the road bed. Later in the year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers condemned a 2.7 mile section of the line due the completion of the Table Rock Dam near Branson, Missouri, which would eventually inundate the line. It was all too much, and in April 1961 the ICC gave the Arkansas & Ozarks Railway permission to abandon the line.

Once the railroad line and the Charcoal Gap Tunnel were abandoned in 1961, salvaging the tracks began in the winter of 1961 and 1962. Work temporarily stopped, however, when the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco) filed suit against the Arkansas & Ozarks Railway to stop the proceedings because $30,594 in interchange services had not been paid. However, the companies soon settled the suit and tracks were finally removed in 1964. Since the abandonment of the tunnel, the tunnel has slowly been taken back by nature and become a largely forgotten relic in the wooded rural wilderness of Carroll County.

The Eureka Springs side of the tunnel (top left).

The RR bed leading toward tunnel (top right).

The Berryville side of the tunnel (top left).

Inside view of Berryville side of tunnel (top right).

The RR bed leading toward tunnel (top left).

The RR bed leading toward Grandview, Ark. (top right).

The Charcoal Gap RR Tunnel is on The Arkansas Register of Historic Places.

Last update Feb. 14, 2013

PLEASE NOTE: Do Not Contact The Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railroad. This Website has no connection with The Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railroad except by name. This Website is a Separate Entity.