The Haunted Wilkes Tunnel

Posted by junketseo in Alexandria Ghost Tours
The Haunted Wilkes Tunnel - Photo

More than 175 years ago, long before the trade was simplified by airplanes and paved roadways that stretch across the nation, goods were transported between towns via railways. In the mid-19th century, what’s now considered Old Town Alexandria welcomed the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, a hub for commerce and trade with Virginia’s western towns.


While an asset for the local economy, one stretch of the railroad would become a legend to locals and a focus of many Alexandria ghost tours. Its history is steeped with maladies and horrific incidents ripe for lasting hauntings. 


The Wilkes Street Tunnel and its high brick walls are said to house unsettled spirits, and visitors have often reported strange noises and the rare sighting of a specter wanding through the dark passage.


What trapped souls still wander the Wilkes Street Tunnel today? Find out on an Alexandria ghost tour!

Constructing the Wilkes Street Tunnel   


Ground first broke for a new tunnel in Alexandria more than a decade before the United States was divided by the Civil War. The Orange and Alexandria Railroad Company sought to answer the dilemma of trading between the east and western parts of Virginia. That answer came in 1848 when the company chartered the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, a railway that would cut through Alexandria’s Wilkes Street from the north end of nearby Union Street by the waterfront. 


Three years later, in May 1851, Orange and Alexandria laid the first run of track through a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. Using the cut-and-cover method, which involved first digging a trench, then adding the tunnel and covering it with the original terrain, the railroad company developed what would become an integral part of Alexandria’s history. 


1956 marked the completion of the tunnel, just in time for the northern and southern states to break out into a conflict that would ultimately be indirectly responsible for the tunnel’s current ghostly inhabitants.


The Civil War and the Murdered Soldier


During times of war, it’s not uncommon for major transit hubs to become military property. At least for the duration of the conflict. Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1861, the Union Army took control of the railway built by Orange and Alexandria just years prior. The Wilkes Tunnel became crucial to the Union Army, as it was used to access the waterfront where military supplies could be ferried out safely.


Though the Union operated the railway without major incident during the war, blood was still shed on the grounds of the otherwise innocuous tunnel. An article in a 1909 issue of The Alexandria Gazette tells of a murder alleged to have occurred near the tail end of the Civil War in 1965. 


According to the Gazette, the victim was a young Union soldier who was believed to have enlisted for money. It’s said he was lured into the tunnel during one summer evening and stabbed to death. His killers were never found; it’s not unthinkable that one of the Wilkes Street Tunnel’s specters is the young soldier, trapped forever in a futile search for those who wronged him. 


The cold spots said to manifest throughout the tunnel could have another, far grizzlier source.


The Curse of The Wilkes Street Tunnel


The murdered Union soldier may be one of the most recounted tales of Alexandria’s infamous tunnel, but some sources suggest death is no stranger to the passageway. Three years before the unsolved murder of 1865, The Alexandria Gazette reported a gruesome incident that left one individual without a leg.


On August 26, 1862, an inebriated Union soldier lost his leg when a passing locomotive ran him over. The soldier reportedly laid down on the track and, in his condition, was unable to move as the train approached. Though he survived, traumatic incidents can leave a stain on a location, lending to a negative energy that envelopes the space. 


Where that soldier lost his leg, one man lost his head in a brutal incident that allegedly unfolded in 1864. The grotesque story is that a group of friends had murdered a bystander and, rather than let his body rest in peace, placed it on the tracks. The decedent’s head rested right on the track near the tunnel’s western end, causing the train to obliterate it when passing by. 


One final incident unfolded in March 1864 and involved the murder of James Scotten, a Union volunteer of Company G, 4th Regiment. Scotten was last seen walking into Wilkes Street Tunnel on March 11. Moments later, one Joe Wood allegedly heard faint groans from the tunnel, prompting him to investigate and find Scotten’s lifeless body. Another Union soldier, John Rush, was arrested on suspicion of murdering Scotten, though there’s no record as to whether justice was served.


While there is no suspected curse upon the tunnel, a case could be made for something dark and sinister watching over Wilkes Street in the 19th century.


A Decommissioned Tunnel, A Home for the Restless


Much of the malevolence that befell the tunnel subsided after the Civil War. Even when it became a transportation hub during World War I, it didn’t rack up any further horrifying tales. At least none were recorded. By 1975, the railway decommissioned the track as its usefulness waned. 


Today, the tunnel should remain as a reminder of 19th-century innovations that once sustained local economies. To locals, though, it’s a memorial to the unlucky few who entered on one end and ever again emerged. 


Is the Wilkes Street Tunnel haunted? And if so, which of its unfortunate victims are still tied to the brick facade? A visit to Alexandria’s ill-fated tunnel holds the answers. Maybe you, like countless others, will hear the unintelligible whispers of one of the tunnel’s spectral residents. Or, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of a shadow shifting through the tunnel as if watching from afar.

Face Alexandria’s Ghosts


Care to try and contact the meandering spirit of James Scotten? Want to explore the depths of Alexandria’s most nefarious tunnel? 


We invite you to embark on an Alexandria ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures. Led by our experienced tour guides, you’ll visit Alexandria’s most haunted locations, like the bar that predates Virginia, Gatsby’s Tavern, and the mansion-turned-Civil War hospital. You’ll hear the tales of the city’s dearly departed and step foot inside the haunting 19th-century tunnel. 


Learn more about haunted locations across the United States with our blog, and keep up with our spooky adventures and updates on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.