7th Avenue tunnel

Location: Under 7th Avenue between Adams and Columbia

subway construction7th Avenue Tunnel 1913, photo courtesy of Washington State Historical Society 7th ave tunnel7th Avenue Tunnel today (2012), Photo by Matthew Kennelly

In early days of the Northern Pacific railroad, Olympia was ignominiously bypassed, and had to build its own narrow gauge to hook up with the NP in Tenino, 15 miles away. Once Washington gained statehood and Olympia became its permanent capital, several railroads vied for the opportunity to serve our city. However, all were contingent on concessions and funds. Olympia raised $50,000 for construction of the line to downtown, but insisted that the tracks not run on surface roads through downtown, particularly along 7th Avenue which was lined with homes of wealthy citizens.

The 7th Avenue tunnel (also known as the Subway) was opened in 1891, the year that the Northern Pacific first brought service into downtown. The depot was built on new fill at its current location on Columbia Street, just past the western end of the tunnel. At first the “lid” of the tunnel was made of wood, and considered an informal extension of Sylvester Park, which ran along its northern edge.

Improvements were made in 1913, when the tunnel was lined in concrete. Railroad historian James Hannum speculates that the set of tracks at the left of the photograph, taken during the construction phase, may have been for a tram to bring materials to a higher level.

The tracks are still used for freight traffic, having been acquired by the Burlington Northern in the 1960s. A homeless man was hit by a train in 2010 and lost his arm.

More information:

Washington State Historical Society photo (above) enter the following catalog number in collection search box: C1984.3.1 , C1984.3.2

Olympia inventory (note that this inventory report states the tunnel was built in 1913 or 1914, relying on information from the Burlingon Northern; however,  Sanborn maps, photographs and other DAHP sources indicate that the tunnel was built in 1891 and improved in 1913)

Thurston County Historical Journal, December 2020

Thanks to James Hannum for information and interpretation

Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross








This entry was posted in Locations of Historic Interest. Bookmark the permalink.