Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania is full of creepy, forgotten places. Relics of bygone eras in technology, hospitals replaced by better care, and architecture that has outlived its usefulness. 

Home to a world of wild abandonment. 

In Philadelphia alone, the Divine Lorraine, Eastern State Penitentiary, and numerous vacant piers and power stations, we are enamored not just with our past, but what happens to our past when Mother Nature reclaims her own. 

Beyond the city to Lynnewood Hall and Pennhurst Asylum, we are a region lost between history and modernity, between the foreboding fortresses of 12th Century Europe and the tech campuses of the West Coast.

We preserve what we can. But across the state, more prized than tours of Society Hill by many, is the sullen macabre of the insignificant towns and highways lost to time and progress. Centralia, PA, once a coal town that housed 1000 residents has dwindled to 10 because of a coal fire that began in 1962. 

Aside from a few houses inhabited by those who refuse to leave, the town is now little more than faded street signs, avenues once lined with modest row houses, and sidewalk staircases leading to wild meadows.

Not far, Concrete City in Nanticoke, PA was an experimental community built for employees of a railroad's coal division in 1911. Because of mold problems caused by its exclusively concrete construction, the Glen Alden Coal Company abandoned the property in 1924, finding it too costly to demolish more than one of the city's homes. The rest remain to this day.

These are the things that fascinate me. The inspiration for scary movies and the monsters I still find under my bed.

This weekend I went to Breezewood, PA, which is little more than a truck stop for the intersection of I-70 and I-76. But past souvenir shops and a few fast food restaurants, just beyond a quaint church and over a hill is the entrance to one of Pennsylvania's most coveted sites for those who wish to explore the bizarre.

In 1968, 13 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike were expanded and relocated, replacing the Sidling Hill Tunnel and Rays Hill Tunnel with a portion of what is now I-76 to accommodate more traffic. But the highways, and the tunnels, remain.

Today the abandoned turnpike exists as a "ride at your own risk" bike trail, maintained by the Friends of the Bike 2 Pike which have been working with Bedford County to turn it into an official bike trail. 

But if you're adventurous, see it now, and bring a head lamp. From the entrance to the first tunnel, you can see the end, but it's dark, damp, and the tunnel's echo is spine tingling. On a nice day you may find other bikers, their lamps riding towards you, followed by a polite "hello" from a face you can't see.

The second tunnel, however, truly is terrifying. From its entrance, you can't see the other side, only a faint light from it. When you reach the middle there is an absolute nothingness, both literal and figurative. You'll hear the sound of water echoing around you, inadvertently manmade falls leaking into the cave. 

Wear headgear and do not stop pedaling. 

If you make it back with your nerves in tact, Gravity Hill is just twenty miles west. A purported anomaly where cars allegedly roll uphill. Likely just an optical illusion, after an afternoon through two abandoned tunnels, an evening in the Pennsylvania Wilds may be scary enough on its own. Until you put your car in neutral and begin to climb a mountain.


  1. Good post! I felt my spine tingle as I read the part about the second tunnel! I've driven through Breezewood ("Town of Motels") a million times. I'll have to actually stop one of these days.

  2. Have you seen the old brick factory in Vinton, Ohio?