- Posted May 27, 2014 by
Dingess, West Virginia
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Appalachian Struggles: A Tunnel Runs Through It
He hopes readers will see that “There are still are places in America that are completely foreign to anything the average person could even begin to imagine.”
What do you think? We invite you to share your thoughts about Farley's essay in a personal essay of your own or the comments below.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
DINGESS, West Virginia — Hidden deep within the coal filled Appalachian Mountains of Southern West Virginia rests a forgotten land that is older than time itself. Its valleys are deep, its waters polluted and its terrain is as rough as the rugged men and women who have occupied these centuries old plats for thousands of years.
Referred to by neighboring communities as “Bloody Mingo,” the people of this West Virginia county have both commanded the respect and fear of anyone wishing to cross them, or their mountainous borders.
Despite the rich resources buried beneath their feet, the proud and strong inhabitants of this haunted land have seen neither fortune nor rest. Dating back to the days their ancestors first crossed into this intrepid territory, nearly three hundred years ago, life has been cruel.
I know all of this to be true, because I was born in this bitter region four decades ago.
Three days following my birth, my mother and father made the same passage my dad’s parents had taken only a handful of years earlier; a journey over Logan Mountain and back to the same parcel of ground owned by the Farley family for centuries.
The passage home included a drive through a one lane train tunnel nearly 4/5 of a mile long.
Still the primary entrance into Dingess, West Virginia, the story of this tunnel dates back nearly a century and a half ago, back to an era when coal was still king in the West Virginia mountains.
For generations, the people of what is now Mingo County, West Virginia, had lived quiet and peaceable lives, enjoying the fruits of the land, living secluded within the tall and unforgiving mountains surrounding them.
All of this changed, however, with the industrial revolution, as the demand for coal soared to record highs.
Soon outside capital began flowing into “Bloody Mingo” and within a decade railroads had linked the previously isolated communities of southern West Virginia to the outside world.
The most notorious of these new railways was Norfolk & Western’s line between Lenore and Wayne County – a railroad that split through the hazardous and lawless region known as “Twelve Pole Creek.”
At the heart of Twelve Pole Creek, railroad workers forged a 3,300 foot long railroad tunnel just south of the community of Dingess.
As new mines began to open, destitute families poured into Mingo County in search of labor in the coal mines. Among the population of workers were large numbers of both African-Americans and Chinese emigrants.
Despising outsiders, and particularly the thought of dark skinned people moving into what had long been viewed as a region exclusively all their own, a handful of the residents of Dingess, West Virginia, are said to have hid along the hillsides just outside of the tunnel’s entrance, shooting any dark skinned travelers riding aboard the train. Source 1, Source 2
Though no official numbers were ever kept, it has been estimated that hundreds of minority workers were killed at the entrance and exit of this tunnel.
Norfolk & Western soon afterward abandonment the Twelve Pole line. Within months two forces of workmen began removing the tracks, ties, and accessory facilities.
Soon, silence reigned in the rugged mountains overlooking the area. Gone were the whistles of locomotives and the rumble of cars. Nothing but a long and winding bed of cinders, decayed ties and several steel bridges remained.
For decades the skeletal remains of Norfolk & Western’s failed railway line stood as a silent testimony to the region’s ghostly ways.
In the early 1960’s, however, the resourceful men of the mountains commandeered the former railroad line and built upon its beds a road for motorists to travel upon.Source 3
Unfortunately, residents of this impoverished region failed to secure funding from the state’s legislature to improve the tunnel and bridges, thus today – over half a century later – residents of this community are forced to drive atop countless one lane train bridges and through a one lane tunnel nearly a mile long.
To the residents of this community, such a drive is just another part of their daily routine, however, for visitors, the notion of driving through a 3,300' one lane tunnel is both a cause for photography and dread.
The Dingess Tunnel stands as yet another testament of how life in Appalachia - even in the twenty-first century - continues to be a struggle; an unseen struggle that seems to have been forgotten by mainstream American culture.