Month of December,
The Lost Tunnel of Brooklyn
had always been rumors, legends really, that there was some sort of
an important artery in
New York City's
borough of Brooklyn. A few people even claimed to be able to hear
trains rumbling somewhere underground in the dark of night-or was
that the plumbing acting up again? But no records of a tunnel could
be found, and no one in living memory had succeeded in demonstrating
a tunnel's existence, even on paper.
Walt Whitman spoke of "a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and
darkness, now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly
late 1970s, Robert Diamond, an engineering student, became curious
about the mystery and unearthed a map of the area in 1850; there,
amazingly, was the lost tunnel. Pursuing this lead, he encountered
massive resistance and disbelief from the city's engineers, who were
understandably reluctant to believe that, unknown to them, a major
railroad tunnel underlay one of the borough's main thoroughfares.
But an item in the
from 1911 mentioned a set of tunnel plans found in the borough
president's garbage, and a duplicate copy proved to be moldering
away in the borough's archives.
finally inveigled the local gas company into opening up a
long-undisturbed manhole, right in the middle of a busy
intersection. At first, he encountered only walls of dirt on all
sides, but the ceiling of the chamber was arched and made of brick.
Between the ceiling and the top of the dirt was enough space to
crawl through, and eventually he dug through to a concrete wall,
where a hole had been patched up with bricks and cobblestones. With
help from the gas workers, he broke through, and suddenly he was
greeted by a blast of cold air. Even after clambering down a
portable ladder, they found themselves in a huge enclosed space.
They had found what they were looking for.
Diamond calls the world's oldest subway tunnel was constructed in
1844 by the Long Island Rail Road to cover a vital section of track
running through a rapidly urbanizing stretch of what was then the
growing city of
Passengers disembarked from the South Amboy, N.J., ferry at the foot
of Atlantic Avenue and boarded the train. It carried them out to the
where they caught another ferry to
ultimately linking up with the
& Providence rail line and cutting days or weeks off travel times to
railroad was itself largely responsible for the area's growth. By
the early 1840s, the dirt road at the edge of town where the tracks
were laid had turned into a lively commercial street clogged with
horse-drawn carriages and carts. Many of these vehicles found that
the tracks made an ideal parking spot. Pedestrians, too, thronged
the busy street, frequently falling on the tracks or being hit by
trains. There were complaints about flames and soot. A tunnel under
the street seemed best, but
Brooklyn sits on a glacial moraine and has no bedrock to
tunnel through. It was necessary to use the cut-and-cover method,
basically digging a ditch and covering it over.
tunnel itself took seven months to construct at a cost of $66,000- a
considerable sum in those days. Stone for the walls came from
excavations in Manhattan, and the trench was covered over with an
enormous barrel arch of brick. Over this, the street was rebuilt.
For tracks, cast-iron straps were attached to 6-by-6-inch timbers
that in turn rested on stone cubes in place of ties.
tunnel remained in use until 1861, at which time one Electus
Litchfield contrived to obtain a contract to close the
now-superseded tunnel and fill it in completely. It seems, though,
that he confined himself to walling off the tunnel at both ends and
filling in only the outer portions. This maneuver, of course,
allowed him to pocket a tidy sum. Thanks to this ancient fraud,
there is still a tunnel to explore.
century later, with World War I raging in
and memories of the old tunnel still alive, the conviction arose
that somehow the tunnel was crawling with German spies busily mixing
up batches of mustard gas. To gain access, investigators started
digging test pits on Atlantic Avenue and eventually broke through
into the tunnel, but nary a saboteur was to be found. The manhole
that was left as the sole means of access in 1861 was not noticed,
and it remained unremarked in the middle of a busy intersection for
more than a century.
Diamond, the tunnel's rediscoverer, is now trying to restore trolley
service to the section of Brooklyn known as Red Hook through his
Brooklyn Historic Railway Association. He hopes to hook up this line
to one running through the old tunnel; he has already had to fight
off a proposal to use the tunnel to carry sewage. If all goes well,
the rumbling sounds beneath
may someday be heard once again, even by those without overactive
1998 by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers