Sideling Hill

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Sideling Hill
2019-07-14 13 12 11 View west along Interstate 68 and U.S. Route 40 (National Freeway) from the Victor Cushwa Memorial Bridge as it passes through the Sideling Hill Road Cut in Forest Park, Washington County, Maryland.jpg
Interstate 68 road cut in Sideling Hill in western Maryland
Highest point
Elevation2,311 ft (704 m)
Coordinates40°00′32″N 78°07′46″W / 40.0090°N 78.1295°W / 40.0090; -78.1295Coordinates: 40°00′32″N 78°07′46″W / 40.0090°N 78.1295°W / 40.0090; -78.1295
at Fisher Point 
LocationWest Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, U.S.
Parent rangeRidge-and-Valley province, Appalachian Mountains
Topo mapUSGS Wells Tannery

Sideling Hill (also Side Long Hill[1]) is a long, steep, narrow mountain ridge in the Ridge-and-Valley (or Allegheny Mountains) physiographic province of the Appalachian Mountains, located in Washington County in western Maryland and adjacent West Virginia and Pennsylvania, USA. The highest point on the ridge is Fisher Point, at 2,310 feet (700 m)[2] in Fulton County, Pennsylvania.[1]


Oblique air photo of Sideling Hill, facing north, with the Interstate 68 roadcut near center, and the path of the National Road (Scenic U.S. 40) visible to the south.

Sideling Hill is a syncline mountain, in a region of downward-folded (synclinal) rock strata between two upfolded anticlines. The ridge is capped by an erosion-resistant conglomerate and sandstone of Mississippian (early Carboniferous) geologic age, the Purslane Sandstone of the Pocono Formation. The ridge's slopes are formed of much more easily eroded kinds of rock, including the Devonian-Mississippian Rockwell Formation, with long, narrow valleys paralleling the ridge on either side.


Most of the crest of Sideling Hill is forested, primarily with various deciduous tree species such as oaks (Quercus) and hickories (Carya), along with occasional evergreen pines (Pinus).

Highway, railroad, and canal crossings[edit]

Only a few major highways, one active and two former railroads, and one former canal cross this steep mountain ridge.

East Broad Top Railroad Tunnel (Pennsylvania)[edit]

East Broad Top Railroad Tunnel at Sideling Hill, south portal

The East Broad Top Railroad constructed a tunnel through Sideling Hill in 1873–74 as part of its mainline construction. The tunnel predates the South Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel construction 11 miles (18 km) to the south by eight years. The tunnel is single-tracked, and curved at each end. It originally had a stone portal on its eastern (RR North) end and a natural stone portal at its western (RR South) end, but about 1919 the north portal was replaced with a concrete one.

The north portal was equipped with doors to prevent wind from blowing through the tunnel as the wind caused water percolating into the tunnel to freeze on the tracks in the winter. In 1911, this ice caused the brand new locomotive #12 to derail its pilot axle inside the tunnel then derail the entire locomotive at the Kimmel switch just beyond the tunnel. In the 1940s, the doors were equipped with remote actuators mounted on poles a few hundred feet before each portal. This allowed the crews to open and close the doors without stopping. The system did not work flawlessly and a door was ripped off by a caboose cupola.

The tunnel was in service from 1874 until the railroad ceased operations in 1956. The line is technically out of service (but not abandoned), and the track is still in place through the tunnel, although not serviceable. The tunnel and rail line are private property and not open to the public.

Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76)[edit]

The Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76) crosses Sideling Hill east of Breezewood, Pennsylvania, bypassing the two-lane Sideling Hill Tunnel and the nearby Rays Hill Tunnel that were formerly used by the Turnpike. Completed at a cost of $17,203,000, the Sideling Hill bypass opened on November 26, 1968, and the former alignment through the tunnels became known as the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike. A rest area next to the ridge was a stop on Bill Clinton and Al Gore's post-convention bus tour in 1992.

Sideling Hill Tunnel (Pennsylvania)[edit]

The western portal of the now-abandoned Sideling Hill Tunnel, along the former mainline of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The Sideling Hill Tunnel, through Sideling Hill in Pennsylvania east of Breezewood, is currently in its third phase of life. In the 1880s, a tunnel was partially bored through the mountain by the South Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroad project ceased, and the tunnel was left abandoned. When construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was begun in the 1930s by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission on the right-of-way of the South Pennsylvania Railroad, the tunnel was completed for highway use by the turnpike.[citation needed]

The tunnel, the longest of the seven original turnpike tunnels at 6,782 feet (2,067 m) long, was used from the turnpike's opening in 1940 until 1968. Due to increasing traffic on the highway, the turnpike commission began upgrading all of its two-lane tunnels, constructing twin bores for its tunnels through the Allegheny, Tuscarora, Kittatinny, and Blue mountains, and bypassing the tunnels under Laurel Hill, Rays Hill, and Sideling Hill with new, six-lane highways climbing the adjacent hills. The Sideling Hill Tunnel and the nearby Rays Hill tunnel, along with connecting segments of four-lane highway, were used for many years as a testing facility for new highway technologies.[citation needed]

In 2001, the Sideling Hill Tunnel was sold to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy for $1, which now operates it as a bike trail.[3]

Sideling Hill Road Cut (I-68 and U.S. 40, Maryland)[edit]

The Sideling Hill cut from the rest stop pedestrian bridge
The Sideling Hill Road Cut, as seen from Interstate 70

The Sideling Hill Road Cut on Interstate 68 and US 40 is a 340-foot (100 m) deep notch excavated from the ridge of Sideling Hill, about 5 miles (8 km) west of Hancock in Washington County, Maryland. It is notable as an impressive man-made mountain pass, visible from miles away, and is considered to be one of the best rock exposures in Maryland and the entire northeastern United States.[4] Almost 810 feet (250 m)[citation needed] of strata in a tightly folded syncline are exposed in this road cut. Although other exposures may surpass Sideling Hill in either thickness of exposed strata or in quality of geologic structure, few can equal its combination of both.[citation needed] The exposed rocks consist of the Devonian-Mississippian Rockwell Formation, underlying the Mississippian Purslane Sandstone.

Rest stop and former Exhibit Center[edit]

A highway rest stop, located near the eastern side of the Sideling Hill Road Cut on Interstate 68 west of Hancock, includes a pedestrian bridge crossing I-68, connecting the eastbound and westbound rest areas and offering views of the cut, in which stopping is prohibited.

The rest stop formerly included the Sideling Hill Exhibit Center, a four-level geological museum and travel information center which opened in 1991. Due to state budget cuts, this facility was closed on August 15, 2009, as part of a $280 million budget reduction package, saving the state about $110,000 annually. Before its closing, the center served about 95,000 visitors a year.[5] Many of the geological exhibits from the former Exhibit Center are now displayed at the Hancock Museum in nearby Hancock, Maryland.[4][6]

The former Exhibit Center building was reopened as a Welcome Center on October 9, 2015. Only part of the facility is open, with the former Exhibit Center exhibits remaining at the Hancock Museum.[7]

National Road (U.S. 40 Scenic)[edit]

Before construction of I-68, U.S. 40 (now U.S. 40 Scenic), the National Road, crossed Sideling Hill with a steep grade on each side and a sharp hairpin turn at the crest of the mountain.

Potomac River Water Gap[edit]

The water gap cut through Sideling Hill by the Potomac River southwest (upstream) of Hancock, Maryland, provides a low-level crossing of the ridge for the CSX Railroad, formerly the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, on the southern (West Virginia) side of the river, and on the northern (Maryland) side, the former Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, now a national historical park, and the former Western Maryland Railroad (now a rail trail).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Feature Detail Report for: Sideling Hill". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  2. ^ "Fisher Point, Pennsylvania". List of Peaks. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  3. ^ Walsh, Larry (November 4, 2001). "Cycling: Tighter security near Confluence dam sends cyclists in search of new campsite". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on May 25, 2007. Retrieved September 14, 2006.
  4. ^ a b Brezinski, David K. (1994). "Geology of the Sideling Hill Road Cut". Maryland Geological Survey. Retrieved March 9, 2009.
  5. ^ Keels, Heather (July 22, 2009). "Sideling Hill Exhibit Center to close". The Herald-Mail. Hagerstown, Maryland. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  6. ^ "Welcome Centers". Visit Maryland. Maryland Office of Tourism. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  7. ^ Baker, Tamela (September 25, 2015). "Sideling Hill visitors center to reopen in Hancock". Herald-Mail. Retrieved October 18, 2015.

External links[edit]