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Gunnison History Tracker
Alpine Tunnel Historic District
The Alpine Tunnel Historic District includes approximately 13 miles of the former Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad railbed across the Continental Divide from Hancock to Quartz, as well as the Alpine Tunnel itself. Constructed in 1880-1881, the district illustrates the engineering and operational challenges faced by the Colorado mountain railroads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Alpine Tunnel East Portal -
  Situated about 18 miles from Buena Vista, and 3.2 miles from Hancock, is the historic narrow gauge Alpine Tunnel.
  Construction camps were erected, and the locating of the tunnel portals and establishing a center line of the bore were all completed in December of 1879. Followed by the excavating of the curved entrance to the East Portal, which was finished January of 1880.
  The construction of the Alpine Tunnel took place between 1880-1881, by the Cummings & Co. Construction Company. This was the highest and most expensive tunnel in the world built up til that time. It exceeds two miles above sea level, with its highest point at 11,523.7 feet. It is 500 feet under Altman Pass, which was later named Alpine Pass to prevent confusion, with a 1,825 foot bore.
  The construction company of Fitgerald Co. took the project over July of 1880, and the tracks reached the East Portal, August 11th, of that same year.
  Anticipating that the mineral rich area would be the next big mining “Bonanza”, as many as 10,000 different men worked to build the line and tunnel at various times. A crew of around 400 worked steadily, but turnover was quick, as men suffered through the cold and brutal work Laborers, working for $3.50 per day, and explosive men earned $5.00 a day, were often forced to go from their worksite, to their cabins in groups in order to avoid being lost in the snow.
  Excavation of the Alpine Tunnel, which became the first tunnel ever constructed through the North American Continental Divide, began January 1880, and was expected to be finished in only six months. However, due to unforeseen circumstances like starting the project in the middle of the winter, the task required nearly two years and costing $180,000.00 more to complete, at a cost nearer to $300,000.00. Fractured granite necessitated the expense of using over 400,000 board feet of 12x12 California redwood to support and encase 1,427-feet of the 1,772-foot long tunnel. The two crews working from each side of the tunnel met each other in July of 1881, though it would be another year before it was ready for rail traffic, in June of 1882.
  Completed 18 months later, the engineering marvel was a welcome relief to all of those who were previously required to haul supplies and mail back and forth over the treacherous passes of Tincup, Taylor, and Altman.  
  Due to the high elevation and harsh winter conditions, the tunnel began to close during winters between 1887 and 1889, and again between 1890 and 1895. In the meantime, the Denver, South Park, & Pacific Railroad went into receivership in August of 1889, then re-emerging as the Denver, Leadville, & Gunnison Line, under the control of the Union Pacific Railroad. However, that line would also go into receivership five years later.