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History The Ghost Highway-the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Steve Ray, May 13, 2009.

  1. Steve Ray
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 642

    Steve Ray

    It lies quietly in the Pennsylvania countryside. Its pavement is crumbling, its medians are overgrown with tall grass, and the treeline is encroaching on its shoulders, taking back the land. This is a ghost highway; the thirteen miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, America's first Superhighway, bypassed and abandoned in 1968.


    The history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike actually began in the 1880s when railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt sought to build a railroad to compete with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The South Pennsylvania Railroad was to link the capitol city of Harrisburg and the industrial center of Pittsburgh 160 miles to the west. The right-of-way was graded and ten tunnels were partially dug through the mountains of central Pennsylvania before the project was abandoned in 1885.

    Rays Hill 1880s. Andrew Carnegie, center

    In 1937 the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was established to build and operate a high-speed limited access toll road along the old SPRR right-of-way. Construction began in 1938 using Federal Works Progress Administration funds. Seven of the original ten tunnels were completed (none were bored all the way through originally). The Turnpike opened to traffic in October 1940.
    This was America's first Superhighway. Four lanes, two in each direction, Seven tunnels; three over a mile in length. And not a single traffic light, stop sign, or intersection along the entire route.

    The tunnels featured similar modernist facades with ventilation equipment housed in glass-fronted structures above each opening with the name of the tunnel appearing on the glass in stainless steel block letters. The interiors of the structures were brightly lit at night, backlighting the names. The tunnels were:

    Laurel Hill Tunnel: Length: 4,541 ft. [​IMG]
    Allegheny Mountain Tunnel: Length: 6,070 ft.
    Ray's Hill Tunnel: Length: 3,532 ft.
    Sideling Hill Tunnel: Length: 6,782 ft. (longest)
    Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel: Length: 5,326 ft.
    Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel: Length: 4,727 ft.
    Blue Mountain Tunnel: Length: 4,339 ft.

    One mile = 5280 ft.

    World War II- Drivers entering the tunnels were stopped and questioned by guards posted at each entrance.

    Unfortunately the tunnels had only two lanes, one in each direction. This wasn't a problem at first, but by the late 1950s they became a major source of traffic congestion. Something needed to be done.

    The decision was made to bore second tunnels at Allegheny Mountain, Tuscarora, Kittatinny, and Blue Mountain, and bypass Laurel Hill, Ray's Hill, and Sideling Hill entirely. Construction began in 1962, and Laurel Hill was bypassed first in 1964. In 1968 the bypass was complete and thirteen miles of Turnpike with its three tunnels was closed to traffic forever.

    The Abandoned Turnpike is now owned by the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy. The road, along with Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels, are open to cyclists and hikers. The tunnel structures, with the massive ventilation equipment still in place, are open to urban explorers.

    Laurel Hill tunnel is leased to a secretive private tenant; rumored to be a racing team operating a wind tunnel inside!
    EDIT: It's Ganassi Racing.

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike has been extended, widened, and extensively modernized over the past 69 years. The Abandoned Turnpike is the only section that largely retains its original 1940s appearance.

    I ran across a cool old home movie from 1953 of the turnpike and its tunnels:

    Here's a few links to picture albums:
    Library of Congress collection: turnpike
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  2. Little Wing
    Joined: Nov 25, 2005
    Posts: 7,458

    Little Wing
    from Northeast

    very cool

    Attached Files:

  3. SUHRsc
    Joined: Sep 27, 2005
    Posts: 5,075


    thanks for posting

  4. hotrodladycrusr
    Joined: Sep 20, 2002
    Posts: 20,733


    Neat read, thanks.
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  5. very cool yet very sad at the same time. thanks for that little bit of history.
  6. garvinzoom
    Joined: Sep 21, 2007
    Posts: 1,169


    Sweet, love this kind of history.
  7. Ryan
    Joined: Jan 2, 1995
    Posts: 17,714

    from Austin, TX
    Staff Member

    THAT is friggin' cool!!!!!
  8. Curt R
    Joined: Sep 7, 2004
    Posts: 730

    Curt R

    thank you, a good read.
  9. Jarzenhotrods
    Joined: Feb 20, 2007
    Posts: 821

    from .......

    That was a really good read. Thanks!!! That movie was really cool too..
  10. TomT
    Joined: Dec 11, 2003
    Posts: 2,471

    1. Virginia HAMB(ers)

    Thanks - I guess the roadway is closed to vehicle traffic of any kind. Too bad - it would be great scenery for movies of the period.
  11. landseaandair
    Joined: Feb 23, 2009
    Posts: 4,248

    from phoenix

    Wow! I dig that kind of stuff especially if there aren't any no trespassing signs involved. By the way if you are ever in Jerome AZ. don't let the law catch you checking out old mines.
  12. Nice....

  13. KK Hickey Designs
    Joined: Sep 10, 2008
    Posts: 277

    KK Hickey Designs

    Very cool read! Thanks for posting it.
  14. alsancle
    Joined: Nov 30, 2005
    Posts: 1,540


    Very cool. Thank you for posting.
  15. Steve Ray
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 642

    Steve Ray

    Funny you should mention that. The portion at Rays Hill tunnel was the site of filming for the upcoming movie, "The Road", based on the Cormac McCarthy novel.

    <object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

    Glad you like the post. I grew up in PA and never knew this existed. I remember taking the Turnpike to Carlisle with my Dad, and still remembered the tunnel names: Tuscarora, Kittatinny, Allegheny and Blue Mountain. Central PA has some of the most scenic drives in the country; especially in the fall when the leaves are changing.
  16. hotrd32
    Joined: May 16, 2007
    Posts: 3,272

    from WA

    Yeah, I was thinking great location for some period looking car shoots....nice post, it's funny how old (dumb) movies become so important at a later's wonderful that your Grandparents had enough foresight to shoot it..............
  17. very cool, thanks for the history lesson
  18. Von Rigg Fink
    Joined: Jun 11, 2007
    Posts: 13,431

    Von Rigg Fink
    from Garage

    is there any access on to the road ..or has the two ends closed off and no way to ever get a car on it?

    Reason Im asking would be a kick ass place to have a car show Ala HAMB....and maybe if a section of road 1 or 2 miles long was in good shape..A Drag run maybe?

    or at least some photo opps.
  19. THIS is why I love the HAMB. Thank you !
  20. Steve Ray
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 642

    Steve Ray

    Thanks, but they weren't my grandparents. I've never been there, but I'll go next time I visit my family, and I'll bring my camera!
  21. shainerman
    Joined: Apr 18, 2009
    Posts: 820


    Awesome history. Id love to go in and check the guts of those tunnels out. I bet there are places in there people dont know exist!
  22. 5window
    Joined: Jan 29, 2005
    Posts: 5,826


    Nice story about our local history. Thanks.
    Joined: Jun 8, 2005
    Posts: 895


    thats what I was thinking.....very cool read by the way.....
  24. froghawk
    Joined: May 9, 2008
    Posts: 815


    Thanks for a great story!
    I remember well our summer family trips to visit the Grandparents on the Turnpike from lower Bucks County in southeast PA all the way across the state 370-plus miles to New Castle on the far side not far from Ohio. First in a '54 Ford Ranch Wagon (the fancy one with Crestline trim), and later a '58 Del Rio Ranch Wagon. No air conditioning... in July, sharing the back seat with little sis; no doubt we drove Mom and Dad crazy with the classic kid question "Are we there yet?" and it's popular variation, "WHEN are we gonna get there?"
  25. Mopar34
    Joined: Aug 8, 2006
    Posts: 1,028


    Hey, thanks for posting this. It was a great read. I've lived in PA for over 30 years and didn't know that there was a previous turnpike and an abandoned section.:eek: I have traveled the current turpike many times during my trips to Western PA and Ohio and didn't even know. Now I'm going to have to try to visit the area.

    I found out about 10 years ago that there had been a MA-PA railroad that came out of Harford County Maryland and ran up to York PA. There had been wooden trestle bridges across wide ravines and all of the other neat stuff associated with steam trains. It was abandoned years ago and finding it has been difficult. Hopefully I will be able to get to the old turnpike more easily.

    Thanks again for a great post and the history lesson.:D
  26. Thanks! That long straight section looks like a good place to rebuild and start the Penn Turnpike Racing Association.
  27. chaos10meter
    Joined: Feb 21, 2007
    Posts: 2,192

    from PA.

    I run it maybe twice a month.

    My late Father in Law was on the concrete gang doing the original cement work on the "Pike" I forget how many miles or sections he said they had to do a day.

    I was also told the Laurel Hill Tunnel is a secret US Government storage area. I know it has tons of security & fencing around it.
  28. bigolds
    Joined: Oct 27, 2006
    Posts: 877


    I bet that's where that Stargate thing is...........All kidding aside, this was a facinating read. Thank You!!!!

  29. That is so freaking cool!!!!!
  30. Old6rodder
    Joined: Jun 20, 2006
    Posts: 2,322

    from SoCal
    1. HA/GR owners group

    Thanks for the posting, pictures and film. I grew up in that part of the country and've been on the Turnpike a few times as a kid. Hadn't recalled those memories in awhile.

    Thanks again.

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