Known to rail fans throughout the East Coast, the historic Sand Patch grade and Sand Patch Tunnel on the former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad mainline draws visitors to this tiny hamlet on a regular basis. At one time, the village had its own post office and hotel (pictured above).
Construction on the original Sand Patch Tunnel began in 1854.
Henry Pleasants worked on the Sand Patch tunnel as a very young engineer and is credited with devising an ingenious system for ventilating it that involved setting fires in vertical shafts alongside it that sucked stale air out and fresh air in. In 1861, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment was raised in the Schuylkill area with many coal miners in it who dug a tunnel under the Confederate lines defending Petersburg, Virginia. Col. Henry Pleasants used the same technique for ventilation there that he used in Sand Patch. On July 30, 1864, the 48th blew up a section of the tunnels under Petersburg.
The Sand Patch tunnel was rebuilt in 1871, and the original cornerstone found its way to the foundation of what was formerly Stone's Tavern at the intersection of Route 160 and Glade City Road, east of Meyersdale. The former tavern, now the Route 160 Auction House owned by James Lishia, is located atop the present-day tunnel.
The tunnel is 4,475 feet long. It was expanded to accommodate two tracks in 1914, as the B&O was to compete with the Western Maryland Railway being built through the area at the same time. The two railroads are located in the same area at Sand Patch and crisscross one another with the B&O going beneath the Western Maryland right-of-way under the Keystone Viaduct east of Meyersdale and under the Salisbury Viaduct north of Meyersdale.
The Sand Patch grade is one of the steepest railroad grades, if not the steepest, in the East Coast, dropping more than 1,000 feet in elevation in about 20 miles from the eastern slope of the Allegheny Mountains into Hyndman, PA. Riding in a passenger car behind a steam locomotive, passengers could feel the giant wheels "slipping" as the train ascended the grade.
The Sand Patch Tower was the home of telegraph operators who controlled train traffic on the grade.
The 48th Pennsylvania in the Battle of the Crater by Jim Corrigan (McFarland & Company, 2006), p. 32. (Citation and information submitted by Charles Titteron.)
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