Cowan Tunnel

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Cowan Tunnel
View from north end into tunnel interior. The old Mountain Goat rail bed bridge is in the foreground.
Coordinates 35°09′08″N 85°58′31″W / 35.15222°N 85.97528°W / 35.15222; -85.97528Coordinates: 35°09′08″N 85°58′31″W / 35.15222°N 85.97528°W / 35.15222; -85.97528
Status Open
Start 35°09′15.3828″N 85°58′42.2004″W / 35.154273000°N 85.978389000°W / 35.154273000; -85.978389000
End 35°09′2.4336″N 85°58′21.2268″W / 35.150676000°N 85.972563000°W / 35.150676000; -85.972563000
Constructed 1849–1853
Opened 1853
Owner CSX Railroad
Length 2,200 ft (670 m)
Cumberland Mountain Tunnel
Cowan Tunnel is located in Tennessee
Cowan Tunnel
Cowan Tunnel is located in the US
Cowan Tunnel
Nearest city Cowan, Tennessee
Area 42 acres (17 ha)
Built 1849 (1849)
NRHP reference # 77001270[1]
Added to NRHP August 22, 1977

The Cowan Tunnel, or Cumberland Mountain Tunnel, is a railroad tunnel near Cowan, Tennessee

The tunnel was built by the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad Company and was completed in 1852 with the tracks laid in 1853 with a total length of 2,200 ft (670 m). The strategically important tunnel, part of the rail linkage between the Midwestern United States and the Southeastern United States, played a vital role during the American Civil War. It was considered a major engineering feat at the time. It is still operational and owned by CSX Railroad.[2] The tunnel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.[1]


Construction on the tunnel began in 1849 and was completed in 1852 with the tracks completed in 1853. Work was undertaken by African American slaves, Irish immigrants, and local workers with Swiss engineers. Three ventilation shafts approximately 170 ft (52 m) deep were created during the construction to facilitate air circulation, provide additional work areas, and to enable evacuation of steam and smoke from the steam locomotives during use. The importance of the tunnel was recognized during the American Civil War with both sides fighting over but never destroying the tunnel. The use of the tunnel continues today with freight trains frequently running through it. [2]


  • Smith, Gerald (2010). Sewanee Places. The University of the South. ISBN 978-0-918769-57-2.