Boyertown Museum showcases history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike—A ‘Tunnel Highway'

An image of the abandoned PA Turnpike Tunnel.
An image of the abandoned PA Turnpike Tunnel.

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940, the Turnpike Commission promoted their new road as the “tunnel highway.” This is due to no less than seven tunnels making up part of the Turnpike through the mountainous terrain it crossed between the Carlisle and Irwin interchanges. Originally, there were nine tunnels proposed by planners. Eventually, the Quemahoning and Negro Mountains near Somerset were by-passed, taking that final number down to seven.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened on October 1, 1940 with two-lane tunnels at Laurel Hill, Allegheny, Ray’s Hill, Tuscarora, Kittatinny, and Blue Mountain. Turnpike planners, however, could not have anticipated the volume of traffic that would use this state-of-the-art road. The two-lane tunnels could not accommodate all the users. One of two solutions was used to address each of these overcrowded tunnels: either by-passing or “double tunneling.” The latter was applied to Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny tunnels, in which new parallel tunnels were built next to the original ones. But Ray’s Hill, Sideling Hill, and Laurel Hill were all by-passed between 1964 and 1968. These abandoned tunnels now sit as a monument to the Pennsylvania Turnpike in its infancy.

Visit the Boyertown Museum to learn more about the history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, including its tunnels, which is featured in a new case display in the gallery.

Plenty of memorabilia, including Turnpike souvenirs and postcards, are on display to teach visitors more about the history of this important road in Pennsylvanian history.