Where are the underground tunnels built by masons in New York City and Boston in 1760's~1780's? Do they exist till our present day?
I've found something:
Originally, the small building was known as Goff's Tavern and was rumored to have secret tunnels to which the local English-sympathizing Tories would repair for escape from the Patriots. Later, runaway slaves allegedly used them during the Civil War. So far, those tunnels haven't been confirmed, but additional archeological digs are planned.
Craft Masonry in Orange and Rockland Counties, New York Page 23
However, it appears this info was copied directly from another article(warning: large file) which goes into much deeper detail about the tavern. However, it says no more about the tunnel. It does not say when the building was constructed, but it does allude to the late 1700s. It is found in Monroe, New York. It could be what you're looking for.
Cobble Hill Tunnel
The Cobble Hill Tunnel (also known as the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel) is an abandoned Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) tunnel beneath Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, New York City, running through the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill. When open, it ran for about 2,517 feet (767 m) between Columbia Street and Boerum Place.  It is the oldest railway tunnel beneath a city street in North America that was fully devoted to rail.   [a]
The PRR had consolidated its control of railroads in New Jersey with the lease of United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company in 1871, extending its network from Philadelphia northward to Jersey City. Crossing the Hudson River remained an obstacle to the east, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) ended at the East River. In both situations, passengers had to transfer to ferries to Manhattan. This put the PRR at a disadvantage relative to its arch competitor, the New York Central Railroad, which already served Manhattan. 
After unsuccessfully trying to create a bridge over the Hudson River, the PRR and the LIRR developed several proposals for improved regional rail access in 1892 as part of the New York Tunnel Extension project. The proposals included new tunnels between Jersey City and Manhattan, and possibly one to Brooklyn a new terminal in midtown Manhattan for both the PRR and LIRR, completion of the Hudson Tubes (later called PATH), and a bridge proposal. These proposals finally came to fruition at the turn of the century, when the PRR created subsidiaries to manage the project. The Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York Railroad, incorporated on February 13, 1902, was to oversee construction of the North River Tunnels. The PNJ&NY would also be in charge of the Meadows Division, which would handle the construction of the North River Tunnel approaches on the New Jersey side. 
The original proposal for the PRR and LIRR terminal in Midtown, published in June 1901, called for the construction of a bridge across Hudson River between 45th and 50th Streets in Manhattan, and two closely spaced terminals for the LIRR and PRR. This would allow passengers to travel between Long Island and New Jersey without changing trains.  In December 1901, the plans were modified so that the PRR would construct the North River Tunnels under the Hudson River, instead of a bridge over it.  The PRR cited costs and land value as a reason for constructing a tunnel rather than a bridge, since the cost of a tunnel would be one-third that of a bridge. The North River Tunnels themselves would consist of between two and four steel tubes with the diameter of 18.5 to 19.5 feet (5.6 to 5.9 m).  The New York Tunnel Extension quickly gained opposition from the New York City Board of Rapid Transit Commissioners, who objected that they would not have jurisdiction over the new tunnels, as well as from the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which saw the New York Tunnel Extension as a potential competitor to its as-yet-incomplete rapid transit service.  The project was approved by the New York City Board of Aldermen in December 1902, on a 41–36 vote. The North and East River Tunnels were to be built under the riverbed of their respective rivers. The PRR and LIRR lines would converge at New York Penn Station, an expansive Beaux-Arts edifice between 31st and 33rd Streets in Manhattan. The entire project was expected to cost over $100 million.  
Design and construction Edit
Led by Chief Engineer Charles M. Jacobs, the tunnel design team began work in 1902.  The contract for building the North River Tunnels was awarded to O'Rourke Engineering Construction Company in 1904.  Originally, the tunnel would have comprised three tubes, but this was later downsized to two tubes.  The first construction work comprised the digging of two shafts: one just east of 11th Avenue a few hundred yards east of the river's eastern shore and a larger one in Weehawken, a few hundred yards west of the river's western shore. Construction on the Weehawken Shaft started in June 1903. It was completed in September 1904 as a concrete-walled rectangular pit, 56 by 116 ft (17.1 by 35.4 m) at the bottom and 76 ft (23.2 m) deep. 
When the shafts were complete, O'Rourke began work on the tunnels proper. The project was divided into three parts, each managed by a resident engineer: the "Terminal Station" in Manhattan the "River Tunnels", east from the Weehawken Shaft and under the Hudson River and the Bergen Hill tunnels, west from the Weehawken Shaft to the tunnel portals on the west side of the Palisades.  : 45 The tunnels were built with drilling and blasting techniques and tunnelling shields, which were placed at three locations and driven towards each other. The shields proceeded west from Manhattan, east and west from Weehawken, and east from the Bergen portals. 
Under the river itself, the tunnels started in rock, using drill and blast, but the strata under the river was pure mud for a considerable depth. As a result, this part was driven under compressed air, using 194-ton shields that met about 3,000 feet (910 m) from the Weehawken and Manhattan portals. The mud was such that the shield was shoved forward without taking any ground however, it was found that the shield was easier to steer if some mud was taken in through holes at the front, since the mud had the consistency of toothpaste. After the tubes had been excavated, they were lined with 2.5-foot-wide (0.76 m) segmental cast-iron rings, each weighing 22 tons. The segments were bolted together and lined with 22-inch (56 cm) of concrete.  : 200 The two ends of the northern tube under the river met in September 1906 at that time it was the longest underwater tunnel in the world.  
Meanwhile, the John Shields Construction Company had begun in 1905 to bore through Bergen Hill, the lower Hudson Palisades  William Bradley took over in 1906 and the tunnels to the Hackensack Meadows were completed in April 1908.  
Opening and use Edit
The tunnels opened November 27, 1910, when the New York Tunnel Extension to New York Penn Station opened.  : 37 Until then, PRR trains used the PRR main line to Exchange Place in Jersey City, New Jersey. The New York Tunnel Extension branched off from the original line two miles northeast of Newark, then ran northeast across the Jersey Meadows to the North River Tunnels and New York Penn.  The tunnel project included the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River and the Manhattan Transfer interchange with the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (now PATH).  : 37, 39 The opening of the North River Tunnels and Penn Station made the PRR the only railroad with direct access to New York City from the south. 
In 1967 the Aldene Plan was implemented, allowing trains of the floundering Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) and Reading (RDG) to run to Newark Penn Station, connecting to PRR and PATH trains to New York.  : 61  The PRR merged into Penn Central Transportation in 1968.  Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970  : 61  and in 1976 its suburban trains were taken over by Conrail,   then by NJ Transit in 1983.  Penn Central long-distance service (including part of today's Northeast Corridor and Empire Corridor) had been taken over by Amtrak in 1971.  Amtrak took control of the North River Tunnels in 1976, and NJ Transit started running trains through the tunnels under contract with Amtrak. 
Except for a curve west of the west end of Pier 72 that totals just under a degree, the two tracks are straight (in plan view). They are 37 feet (11.3 m) apart from west of 11th Avenue to the Bergen Hill portals. The third rail now ends just west of the Bergen Hill portals.
Capacity and useful life Edit
The North River Tunnels allow a maximum of 24 crossings per hour each way.   Since 2003, the tunnels have operated near capacity during peak hours.  The number of NJ Transit weekday trains through the North River Tunnels increased from 147 in 1976 to 438 in 2010.  Trains ordinarily travel west (to New Jersey) through the north tube and east through the south. During the busiest hour of morning rush, about 24 trains are scheduled through the south tube, and the same number travel through the north tube in the afternoon.
The tubes run parallel to each other underneath the river their centers are separated by 37 feet (11 m). The two tracks fan out to 21 tracks just west of Penn Station.   : 399  : 76
Beginning in the 1990s several proposals were developed to build additional tunnels under the Hudson, both to add capacity for Northeast Corridor traffic and to allow repairs to be made to the existing deteriorated tunnels. A plan to repair the tunnels and add new tubes was approved in 2021. 
Access to the Region's Core Edit
Access to the Region's Core (ARC), launched in 1995 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), NJ Transit, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was a Major Investment Study that looked at public transportation ideas for the New York metropolitan area. It found that long-term goals would best be met by better connections to and in-between the region's major rail stations in Midtown Manhattan, Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.  The East Side Access project, including tunnels under the East River and the East Side of Manhattan, which would divert some LIRR traffic to Grand Central, is expected to be completed in December 2022. 
The Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel or THE Tunnel, which later took on the name of the study itself, was meant to address the western, or Hudson River, crossing. Engineering studies determined that structural interferences made a new terminal connected to Grand Central or the current Penn Station unfeasible and its final design involved boring under the current rail yard to a new deep cavern terminal station under 34th Street.   Amtrak had acknowledged that the region represented a bottleneck in the national system and had originally planned to complete work by 2040. 
The ARC project, which did not include direct Amtrak participation,   was cancelled in October 2010 by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who cited potential cost overruns.  Amtrak briefly engaged the governor in attempt to revive the ARC Tunnel and use preliminary work done for it, but those negotiations soon broke down.    Amtrak said it was not interested in purchasing any of the work.  New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez later said some preparatory work done for ARC may be used for the new project.  Costs for the project were $117 million for preliminary engineering, $126 million for final design, $15 million for construction and $178 million real estate property rights ($28 million in New Jersey and $150 million in New York City). Additionally, a $161 million partially refundable pre-payment of insurance premiums was also made.  Subsequently, Amtrak's timetable for beginning its trans-Hudson project was advanced. This was in part due to the cancellation of ARC, a project similar in scope, but with differences in design. 
Gateway Program and Hurricane Sandy Edit
Amtrak's plan for a new Trans-Hudson tunnel, the Gateway Program was unveiled on February 7, 2011, by Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman and New Jersey Senators Menendez and Frank Lautenberg.     The announcement also included endorsements from New York Senator Charles Schumer and Amtrak's Board of Directors. Officials said Amtrak would take the lead in seeking financing a list of potential sources included the states of New York and New Jersey, the City of New York, the PANYNJ, and the MTA as well as private investors.    As of 2017, the Gateway Program is expected to cost $12.9 billion.  
In October 2012, a year after the Gateway Program was announced, the North River Tubes were inundated by seawater from Hurricane Sandy, marking the first time in the tunnel's history that both tubes had been completely flooded.    The surge damaged overhead wires, electrical systems, concrete bench walls, and drainage systems.  As a result of the storm damage and the tunnels' age, component failures within the tubes increased, resulting in frequent delays.  One report in 2019 estimated that the North River Tubes and the Portal Bridge, two components the Gateway Program seeks to replace, contributed to 2,000 hours of delays between 2014 and 2018.  After the North River Tunnels were flooded, the Gateway Program was prioritized. In May 2014, Boardman told the Regional Plan Association that there was less than 20 years before one or both of the tunnels would have to be shut down.  In July 2017, the draft Environmental Impact Study for the project was issued. 
Funding for the Gateway Project had been unclear for several years due to a lack of funding commitments from New Jersey officials and the federal government. In 2015, a Gateway Development Corporation, consisting of members from Amtrak, the Port Authority and USDOT, was created to oversee construction of the Gateway Project. The federal government and the states agreed to split the cost of funding the project.   The administration of President Donald Trump has cast doubts about funding for the project,   and in December 2017, a Federal Transit Administration official called the previous funding agreement "nonexistent".   In March 2018, up to $541 million for the project was provided in the Consolidated Appropriations Act.   On June 24, 2019, the state governments of New York and New Jersey passed legislation to create the bi-state Gateway Development Commission, whose job it is to oversee the planning, funding and construction of the rail tunnels and bridges of Gateway Program.  In February 2020, Amtrak indicated that it would go forward with the renovation of the North River Tunnels regardless of the Gateway Program's status.  
On May 28, 2021, the project was formally approved by USDOT, with funding still to be determined. Amtrak's cost estimate for the project, as of 2021, is $11.6 billion, which would include repairs to the existing tunnels. One or more federal funding bills pending in 2021 may be used to support the project. The states of New Jersey and New York are maintaining their pledge to provide a portion of the project funding.   
Service and repair plans Edit
If and when the new Gateway Program tunnels are built, the two North River Tunnels would close for repairs, one at a time, with the existing level of service maintained. The North River Tubes and the Gateway Program tunnels would both be able to carry a maximum of 24 trains per hour.  Once the new North River tunnels reopen in 2030, capacity on the line would be doubled. The Hudson Tunnel Project would also allow for resiliency on the Northeast Corridor to be increased, making service along the line more reliable with redundant capacity.  : S-2 to S-3, S-10  : 5B-17
The existing North River Tunnels can carry a maximum of 24 trains per hour in each direction.   If the new Hudson Tunnel is not built, the North River Tunnels will have to be closed one at a time, reducing weekday service below the existing level of 24 trains per hour. Due to the need to provide two-way service on a single track, service would be reduced by over 50 percent.  In the best-case scenario, with perfect operating conditions, 9 trains per hour could be provided through the existing North River Tunnels, or a 63% reduction in service. During the duration of construction, passengers would have to use overcrowded PATH trains, buses, and ferries to get between New Jersey and New York.  : 1–7 On the other hand, if the new Gateway tunnel is built, it would allow an additional 24 trains per hour to travel under the Hudson River, supplementing the 24 trains per hour that could use the existing North River tubes. 
7. The Farley-Morgan Postal Tunnel
The Farley-Morgan tunnel under 9th avenue
One of the least known tunnels in New York City is the postal tunnel that runs under the east side of 9th avenue between the Morgan (mail) sorting facility and the basement of the James A. Farley post office. This heavily secured road tunnel was used to move mail to and from a special ‘secret’ platform at Penn Station, where letters and packages would be transported on Amtrak trains. Amtrak even had a special ‘mail only’ train for a few years, running along the northeast corridor.
They stopped hauling mail in the early 2000s, and the stairs and elevators to the platform were sealed shut. In the post office on special occasions you can still experience the loading area (as we visited during Fashion Week) and the lookout gallery, used for a Storefront for Art and Architecture installation. On a regular visit, don’t miss the quirky Museum of Postal History.
NYC’s Lost Tunnel Discovered: Points to Location of Buried 1831 Locomotive
Thirty feet below Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, there’s a tomb of stone. Its story is of a steam locomotive suspended in time, a man with a vision, and a city that holds all the keys.
The world’s first subway tunnel was nearly forgotten until an urban explorer located it 120 years after it was sealed. The question is, did he also find a locomotive buried under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn?
In 1844 the Long Island Rail Road chose to bury a section of the line under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to avoid accidents between the train and local pedestrians. Fifteen years later the Cobble Hill Tunnel was sealed, possibly with a locomotive inside, and its location was lost in history.
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Fast forward to 1980. A Brooklyn man named Bob Diamond hears a comment on a radio show about an unknown tunnel underneath the city. Using old maps, he digs his way from a defunct utility hole 30 feet under Atlantic Avenue.
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With the help of friends, Bob Diamond hauled off the dirt bucket by bucket from the hole in the middle of the street. All his digging paid off when he reached a concrete wall. He says that when he smashed through, a rush of cold air came out.
Diamond found himself peering down into a vast, open space. He knew he had located the Cobble Hill Tunnel, and it was intact.
The tunnel was half a mile long and massive, with enough room for two train tracks side by side, A 17′ arched stone ceiling, and limestone block walls 22′ apart. An absolute engineering marvel for the age. Wooden stairs had to be built to get Bob and friends down to the floor. The far end of the tunnel is capped by a very thick stone wall.
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Diamond spent the next 30 years leading tours in the tunnel. He started a trolley museum with plans of opening up and running trolleys through Cobble Hill’s famed tunnel.
One thing remains a mystery. The tunnel is said to have been sealed with an 1836 wood-fired locomotive inside. It was noted in a historical book as being the place that John Wilkes Booth may have hid his diary.
That locomotive has yet to be found. Diamond’s logical conclusion is that it, along with the tunnel’s lost marble station, existed on the other side of that stone wall at the other end of the tunnel.
A private engineering firm was hired to scan the area from above ground with special equipment. They determined that there was a large steel object buried below at the end of Atlantic Street.
The story caught the interest of the National Geographic Channel. They worked together with the city and Diamond to plan an excavation of the wall at the end of the tunnel and film a documentary about the process.
In 2010 the whole thing came to a halt. The city and the executives at National Geographic are rumored to have had disagreements. The city canceled the documentary and sealed the tunnel once again, banning Diamond and everyone else from entering.
The city is denying access to this day, and the story is fading into history once again. It seems we may have to wait another century before we know the truth.
Why is it so important that we save this tunnel? So what if there’s a locomotive buried under Atlantic Avenue?
A rich history makes for a prideful neighborhood. And a prideful neighborhood makes for a good neighborhood. If the tunnel were opened and the trolleys installed, it would increase business and tourism. Maybe Cobble Hill Tunnel will see the light of day again.
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Inside The Lost Jehovah's Witnesses Tunnels Under Brooklyn Heights
When the Jehovah's Witnesses moved out of Brooklyn Heights over the past few years, cashing in on their now-valuable properties and moving upstate, they left behind a collection of buildings that had been their headquarters for over a century. In the decades after 1909, when Jehovah's Witnesses founder Charles Taze Russell led the religious group from Pennsylvania to "America’s First Suburb," the Witnesses assembled a series of properties that ranged from an old carriage house on Willow Street to five-story brownstones and the expansive Kingdom Hall on Columbia Heights, along with other buildings (some of which would serve as their headquarters and printing plant).
Thousands of Witnesses from across the country came to volunteer at this center, which they called “Bethel," after "Beecher's Bethel," the former home of abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher that was part of the property.
Out of sight of most New Yorkers, though, was the development underground: a series of tunnels that ran beneath the streets to connect a number of the JW properties. And though the tunnels began to be filled in two years ago, their fascinating history has recently begun to come to light.
In 2017, Gothamist filed a FOIL request with the Department of Transportation to find out more about these subterranean passageways. This year, we received hundreds of pages of emails between the Witness leadership and the DOT, along with additional city records from the Municipal Archives. Those documents, along with conversations with several former Jehovah’s Witnesses and videos we were shown, offer a rare inside look at the tunnels, and provide insight into their purpose.
The first tunnel was built by the Squibb family around 1924. (Municipal Archives)
The first tunnel on the property was constructed in the 1920s by Squibb & Sons, who got approval from the Tammany-controlled board of estimate. The pharmaceutical giant sold the property at 25 Columbia Heights to the Witnesses in the 1960s, and this would become their Watchtower headquarters building. At some point, likely shortly after the sale, four more tunnels were excavated, which eventually housed offices, a grocery store, laundromats, and other services.
The four tunnels connected:
- 97 Columbia Heights to 107 Columbia Heights
- 107 Columbia Heights to 124 Columbia Heights
- 124 Columbia Heights to 119 Columbia Heights
- 86 Willow Street to 77-79 Willow Street (a.k.a. 21 Clark Street)
The decommissioned tunnels are highlighted in this blueprint Gothamist received from the Dept. of Transportation. (Gothamist)
"It was a little creepy" in the tunnels, Gregory Hall, a former JW who left the religion a couple of years ago, told Gothamist. He lived in Brooklyn Heights from 1989 through 1994, though he was a Witness for much longer than that. Like many, he had long yearned to move to the central office at Bethel.
"I've heard of some real strange things that happened down there" in the tunnels, Hall said, without going into detail. He did recall seeing "chain-link cages that they had their offices in. It felt weird. It was not real comfortable."
Since the tunnels were largely secluded, some elders reportedly saw them as an opportunity to corner members away from the rest of the community. Once, Hall said, an older JW man took him into the tunnels, then started talking to him about masturbation. (In a recently released video entitled "Pillowgate," two JW leaders are shown inveighing against masturbation Hall said the Witnesses are infuriated about the video and are searching for a mole they believe leaked it.)
"[I thought] 'I don't even know you, I feel creepy down here, and you're bringing that up to me?'" Hall recalled. "When those doors closed down in those areas, I didn't feel comfortable. Some of those guys, they lose touch with reality."
The tunnels did serve a number of purposes, Hall said, including "privacy, security," and an easy way to navigate through buildings. "You have housekeepers transporting laundry, cooks that are transporting food. [And] it's protection so you don't have to face the outside people."
But Hall, who says he earned $3 a day (lodging was free) working in the Watchtower printing plant producing JW materials and bibles, also mentions other, more questionable uses: "They would have the elderly down there, sitting in the hallways, outside of these laundromats, straightening out hangers. These guys could barely walk or talk, and the tours [of visiting Witnesses] would come by. It was an avenue for them to be able to display their elderly, and their faithful service, supposedly."
Mark O'Donnell, another former JW who helped inform the recent Atlantic piece on child abuse within the organization, shared the above video (filmed by another JW) with Gothamist which shows a small portion of the tunnels where the commissary was housed.
O'Donnell told Gothamist that he believes the tunnels were likely helpful in not imposing upon the neighborhood too much (though it's worth noting the JW's did have stands on nearby sidewalks where they preached and passed out propaganda to passersby). "At the time there were well over 4,000 Witnesses who lived on the property," he noted. "Any time something came on the market in Brooklyn that they felt they could use, they’d go ahead and buy it. The Brooklyn Heights residents didn’t really want JWs buying all that property for a few reasons. Partially because it took it off the tax register, and it’s a little bit scary when a large religious organization starts buying everything up like that."
Bet you wish you built tunnels, sinners! (Watchtower)
Former JW (and contributor to Gothamist) Amber Scorah, whose book Leaving The Witness is out this June, told Gothamist, "I think that a lot of the reason thousands of young Jehovah’s Witnesses (most of whom were men) volunteered to work for [almost] no pay at Bethel was because it meant you got to live in New York City." She also noted that it was "definitely frowned upon for Witnesses who worked [there] to go out and interact with the world, except for reasons of preaching."
Scorah says meals were taken in cafeterias, and as this video from the 1990s shows, those meals were likely prepared in underground kitchens.
You'll enter the tunnels around the 7 minute mark.
"There's a theory that [the tunnels were built because] they didn’t want to be visible to the neighborhood," O'Donnell told Gothamist. "I do think it’s accurate. They had upwards of 4,000 individuals, and they were swarming like ants all over the place." However, it's worth noting that there are also tunnels at the Witnesses' Watchtower Farms property in Wallkill, NY, which is much more secluded. Hall also believes there are tunnels at their Tuxedo Park, NY property.
According to emails obtained by Gothamist, the official use of the tunnels as described to the Department of Transportation (from whom the Jehovah's Witnesses leased tunnel sites beneath public roadways) was for a "pedestrian passageway and to transport supplies." The original tunnel built by the Squibbs ran beneath Vine Street, between two of the buildings in what would become the multi-building Watchtower headquarters. During the ensuing decades, the JW’s would come to control four additional tunnels connecting six different properties, stretching from Columbia Heights, which runs along the top of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, to buildings on Orange, Pineapple, and Clark Streets. In 2016, the Jehovah’s Witnesses paid the city roughly $80,000 in total rent for the tunnels.
Throughout 2016, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses were unloading their Brooklyn Heights real estate, the group was unsure about what to do with their subterranean assets. After initially planning to leave them in place, Watchtower architect David Bean informed the DOT in early 2017 that the religious organization would be “moving ahead 100% with filling” the tunnels. That decision was reached following discussions with prospective buyers, according to Bean's emails.
But navigating the city’s tunnel-filling bureaucracy is apparently a challenging endeavor, and emails show the JW engineering coordinator growing increasingly frustrated by the speed at which the DOT was approving their plans. “I’m getting quite a bit of pressure from my construction manager and owner here at Watchtower,” Bean wrote to the DOT in February of 2017. “We’re due to be completely out of the buildings in a couple months, which doesn’t leave us much time for mobilization on the project.”
One of the bills from the Dept. of Transportation. (Gothamist)
In October of 2017, following a delay in the city’s confirmation that a tunnel had been filled, Bean pressed again: “This is becoming rather critical since it’s linked to the sale of the adjacent 15 story building at 21 Clark Street.” The DOT rep quickly confirmed the deactivation. A few weeks later, the Jehovah’s Witnesses closed on a $200 million sale of that building to the private equity firm Kayne Anderson Real Estate Advisors, which plans to turn the property into “luxury senior housing.”
Emails between the DOT and the Jehovah’s Witnesses also shed light on how, exactly, one closes a network of semi-secret tunnels. The plan, painstakingly negotiated between the DOT and the religious group, called for the tunnels to be hydraulically filled with sand and sealed with either a steel barrier or concrete wall, depending on the potential for corrosion. Determining the load-bearing capacity of the soil beneath the tunnels also prompted several exchanges between the city and the group’s engineers, as did the matter of pouring concrete into the tunnels without disturbing the roadway or sidewalk above.
In the end, the group resolved to fill some of the tunnels via a double-door metal hatchway on the sidewalk of Columbia Heights—an entry point that “has been in place for many years, and will remain as such after the tunnel filling is completed,” Bean wrote—while using a basement access point for the remaining passageways. Openings were left at the ends of each tunnel for a visual inspection, and cameras were installed to monitor the progress of the pouring.
Four of the tunnels have been filled, according to the documents Gothamist obtained: those connecting 97 Columbia Heights to 107 Columbia Heights, 107 Columbia Heights to 124 Columbia Heights, 124 Columbia Heights to 119 Columbia Heights, and 86 Willow Street to 77-79 Willow Street (a.k.a. 21 Clark Street). (The current status of the Squibb tunnel is unknown.) Per a 1988 contract, upon selling the properties the Witnesses also had to pay for the reconstruction of a sewer line under Orange Street, which had to be removed when that tunnel was built.
We reached out to that Watchtower architect, David Bean, for a little more information about the passageways—specifically how and when they were built—but Bean told us he needed clearance from the JW's Office of Public Information. That office has declined to comment (and presumably, is not allowing Bean to answer our questions). And so, as with most stories about underground complexes, these tunnels still have a little bit of mystery buried with them.
This video, said to be filmed in the 1960s, also shows the tunnels (around the 3:15 mark).
New York City subway opens
At 2:35 on the afternoon of October 27, 1904, New York City Mayor George McClellan takes the controls on the inaugural run of the city’s innovative new rapid transit system: the subway.
While London boasts the world’s oldest underground train network (opened in 1863) and Boston built the first subway in the United States in 1897, the New York City subway soon became the largest American system. The first line, operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), traveled 9.1 miles through 28 stations. Running from City Hall in lower Manhattan to Grand Central Terminal in midtown, and then heading west along 42nd Street to Times Square, the line finished by zipping north, all the way to 145th Street and Broadway in Harlem. On opening day, Mayor McClellan so enjoyed his stint as engineer that he stayed at the controls all the way from City Hall to 103rd Street.
At 7 p.m. that evening, the subway opened to the general public, and more than 100,000 people paid a nickel each to take their first ride under Manhattan. IRT service expanded to the Bronx in 1905, to Brooklyn in 1908 and to Queens in 1915. Since 1968, the subway has been controlled by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA). The system now has 26 lines and 472 stations in operation the longest line, the 8th Avenue 𠇊” Express train, stretches more than 32 miles, from the northern tip of Manhattan to the far southeast corner of Queens.
Every day, some 4.5 million passengers take the subway in New York. With the exception of the PATH train connecting New York with New Jersey and some parts of Chicago’s elevated train system, New York’s subway is the only rapid transit system in the world that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No matter how crowded or dirty, the subway is one New York City institution few New Yorkers—or tourists𠅌ould do without.
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If you went on one of Diamond’s tours, which ran between 1982 and 2010, you could see why the FDNY was concerned. He’d lug three plastic orange barricades out to the middle of Atlantic Avenue, pry off the manhole cover with a crowbar, and steady a thin ladder into the narrow shaft, the only entrance to the tunnel. Tourists would line up in the middle of the busy road, descending one by one into a tight passageway. It led to an Alice in Wonderland-sized doorway that opened up on a large staircase, built by Diamond and his colleagues in the ‘80s. The stairs lead down into a massive, spooky hall that is 2,570 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 17 feet tall.
The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel. The red dot marks its only entrance, which was recently sealed by the city.
The tunnel was built in 1844 as part of the Long Island Railroad, a commuter line that delivered passengers from Boston to New York. The train ran through the riverfront area that is now Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, which soon became the most densely populated part of Brooklyn. The neighborhood’s Court Street and Atlantic Avenue intersection was so thick with pedestrians that a tunnel had to be dug so the locomotive could travel under it without killing any children or livestock. Trains in those days didn’t have good brakes.
The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel holds the Guinness world record for "oldest subway tunnel," predating the Tremont Street subway in Boston from 1897, the 312-foot Beach Pneumatic Transit tunnel in Manhattan from 1869, and the first subway in the London Underground, which was built in 1863. "Trains actually passed through it, preceded by a man on horseback," wrote the Brooklyn Eagle in 1911. "Later [it was] used by smugglers and thieves."
The stairs lead down into a massive, spooky hall that is 2,570 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 17 feet tall
Diamond first heard about the tunnel on a radio program about The Cosgrove Report, a historical novel in which John Wilkes Booth hides pages of his diary in an abandoned tunnel between appearances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Diamond didn’t find the diary, but he did find the tunnel after eight months of research in city archives.
Diamond persuaded Brooklyn Union Gas Company to open the manhole and lend him an oxygen tank. He climbed into the 2-foot gap under the street and crawled for about 50 feet until he reached what appeared to be a dead end. He noticed, however, that the dirt didn’t quite reach the ceiling. Just beyond reach was a concrete wall plugged up with bricks and stones, which he broke through using a crowbar. Suddenly, cold air rushed in from the massive chamber on the other side. "I was just laying there on my stomach laughing into the walkie-talkie because I couldn’t talk," he says. "I was so shocked that it was really there."
He may have found something else, too. According to Diamond’s research, there is a 177-year-old steam locomotive sealed in a chamber at the end of the tunnel, a circa-1836 "Hicksville" that was retired from service in 1848 and declared "not worth repairing" in 1853. A scan completed by a magnetometer-imaging contractor in early 2011 revealed a buried metal object the size of a train.
Diamond may be right again, but the city has refused to authorize an excavation, saying it would be too disruptive to rip up such a busy street.
The Hidden Art Deco Tunnel Underneath the New Yorker HotelView all photos
The New Yorker hotel’s giant red sign dominates West 34th Street, and the hotel is often photographed as a city landmark, mostly on account of its name. Yet the history of the building is largely unknown. The New Yorker is filled with untold secrets and forgotten stories, including (though by no means limited to ) the beautiful Art Deco tunnel that ran from the lobby to Penn Station, which is still hidden underneath 34th Street.
Today, thousands of tourists and New Yorkers walk by the bustling corner of Eighth Avenue and 34 Street not knowing that this humble hotel hides a vast private power plant that could have powered a small city a gleaming forgotten bank vault underneath the lobby and an old dining room that came complete with a retractable ice floor, where diners could sip cocktails while watching a twirling glamorous dance show.
But underneath the dance floor lies something even more remarkable and secret. Through the basement, beyond a sealed door, the tunnel is filled with excess old hotel fittings, chairs, carpets, and beautiful Art Deco tiling. Walking through the tunnel takes you directly underneath 34th Street in a zig-zag shape. At the far end is a brass door that would lead today onto the platform near the E line, though the MTA blocked the other side off sometime in the 1960s.
A 1930s brochure in the hotel archives advertises the tunnel as “So Convenient!” Showing a map of midtown Manhattan, it proudly notes that one of the leading amenities of the hotel is a “private tunnel linking the New Yorker to Penn Station.” Drawn on the map is a depiction of an underground pass leading from the hotel to not just Penn Station, but as far as the Empire State Building.
Today, part of the New Yorker’s revitalization has been its embrace and celebration of its Art Deco heritage. Artifacts from a meticulously collected archive are on display in the lobby and in a small adjacent museum, where visitors can experience the golden era of the hotel, while listening to the big bands who once graced its ballrooms.
The westernmost part of Manhattan, between 34th and 39th street, is pretty industrial. There&rsquos a bus depot, a ferry terminal, and a steady stream of cars. But in the late 19th early 20th centuries, this was cow country.
Cows used to be ferried across the Hudson River from New Jersey, herded across Twelfth Avenue (now the West Side Highway), and brought to this part of town to be made into beef. You&rsquove heard of the meat packing district. This was like the meat hacking district. It was nicknamed “Abattoir Place.” It was a hive of bone boilers and hide stretchers and lard renderers. There was a disassembly line for every single part of a cow. As more and more cows were ferried to the slaughterhouses in Manhattan, it became impossible for passing herds to to coexist with Twelfth Avenue traffic. Not only did the number of cows increase, but so too had the number of carriages, and trains, and, eventually, cars. Cows were in the way. There were reports of epic cow jams on Twelfth avenue. That&rsquos why people invented cow tunnels. Or at least the story of cow tunnels. At one point there might have actually been tunnels made expressly for cows to march underneath Twelfth Avenue to the abattoir. Or people might have just invented this crazy story about cow tunnels because everybody loves a good, vaguely plausible urban myth. We have tunnels for cars, for subways, electrical cables, and the internet. Could there be subterranean infrastructure for cows, too?
Writer Nicola Twilley first heard about cow tunnels in a book called Raising Steaks by Betsy Fussell. Fussell writes, “Traffic was so heavy in the 1870s that a &lsquoCow Tunnel&rsquo was built beneath Twelfth Avenue to serve as an underground passage. It&rsquos rumored to be there still, awaiting designation as a landmark site.&rdquo Just that little mention. Nothing else. Thus began Nicola Twilley’s quest to figure out whether the cow tunnels ever actually existed.
Twilley found an article by Brian Wiprud, a utilities specialist for the structural engineering firm Weidlinger Associates. It’s Wiprud’s job to figure out how to get from point A to point B underground in New York City if, for example, Con Edison is cutting a trench for electrical cables. Wiprud investigates all kinds of anomalies they find underground when doing digs. In 1997 Brian published an article in a local newspaper called the Tribeca Trib.
Under the headline &ldquoBum Steer,” Brian wrote about talking to a Con Ed worker named Fred. (No last name given just Fred). And Fred says he was watching a work crew install a new drainage basin downtown, nowhere near the site of those old slaughter houses. They dig and dig and finally hit this kind of wooden barrier. They break through it and it&rsquos hollow. And then an old man from the neighborhood steps up and says, &ldquoWhy I see you&rsquove found the cow tunnel.&rdquo
Wiprud asked around about the cow tunnel. He found that a lot of people had heard of it, but it seemed that no one was consistent on (a) its location, (b) what it was made out of (wood, brick, etc.), and (c) when it was constructed.
And even Wiprud realized that he was not consistent about how he told the story. Over time he began telling the story as if he had seen it himself&mdashwhich, according to his own 1997 article, he hadn’t! With every telling of the cow tunnels story, the facts seem to bend.
So could their existence be proved?
Behold! A cow emerging from a tunnel! Could this be evidence? Yes&mdashbut not definitively. We can’t see where the tunnel is located. And it&rsquos an engraving, not a photograph, so artist interpretation is a factor. And the proportions are all askew&mdasheither the cows are giants or the worker is tiny.
Courtesy of Faline Schneiderman, Historical Perspectives, Inc.
Faline Schneiderman of Historical Perspectives Incorporated, offers more compelling evidence. In 1991, the state was planning to redo Route 9A and contracted Historical Perspectives to do a historical study of that former meat processing area at Twelfth Avenue in the upper 30&rsquos. Schneiderman researched a bunch of old maps and documents and she wrote the final report.
From the final page of Faline’s report: &ldquoAn underground cattle pass was built and used by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. It extended about 200 feet beneath 12th Avenue in the shoreline to the block between West 38th and West 39th Street. The tunnel was built in 1932 and may still be present.&rdquo
(Schneiderman clarifies that her report indicates that this tunnel was 200 feet long and beneath the avenue, not that it was 200 feet below the avenue). Schnedierman found a blueprint for the tunnel, indicating that it was nine feet wide, seven feet high and probably ran between five and twenty feet below the street grade.)
New York department of docs permit number Manhattan 673-A
And we know that this tunnel was actually built, not just planned, because it&rsquos on other maps that were made of the area later.
Courtesy of Faline Schneiderman, Historical Perspectives, Inc.
Some people swear that it&rsquos still intact. Others have said that we might be able to find an entrance in one of the piers in one of the buildings without having to excavate the roadway itself. But this is all right next to the Javitz center and the Lincoln Tunnel. So If a cow tunnel was there was once upon a time, it was most likely pulverized during all of that construction.
In her research, Twilley found evidence for another cow tunnel at 34th Street&mdashthe one in the Harper&rsquos Weekly engraving. A New York Times article from 1875 read, &ldquoThere runs a tunnel under Twelfth avenue where the animals are brought into the shambles. In fact, the cattle are never seen by the outside public from the time of their landing until they are converted into beef.&rdquo It seems that may have been the pivotal moment when Americans began to become detached knowing where our food comes from when the way cities get fed becomes mysterious and invisible. Today, the only cows to be seen in Manhattan are art.
However, this is one remaining cow tunnel in Cambridge, MA.
Credit: Sean Cole Credit: Sean Cole
If not for the plaque, there’d be no way to know that the cow tunnel is there. It’s tucked away in a railyard, off-limits to pedestrians.
99% Invisible contributor Sean Cole spoke with Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography structural engineer (and author) Brian Wiprud and Faline Schneiderman of Historical Perspectives Incorporated.
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The Little-Known History of the Underground Railroad in New York
New York City wasn’t always the liberal Yankee bastion it is today. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the city was strongly pro-slavery and anything but a hotbed of abolitionism. The city’s banking and shipping interests were closely tied to the cotton and sugar trades, industries that relied on slave labor. Any change in the status quo, such as the abolition of slavery, would significantly damage the forces that made New York the financial capital of the United States. But even then, the Underground Railroad, the network of secret safe houses and getaway routes used by fugitive slaves seeking freedom in the North, operated through the city. Fredrick Douglass and thousands of others escaped via what was even then the most populous city in the nation.
The true nature of the Underground Railroad’s breadth in New York, however, has been largely unknown because of the city’s anti-abolitionist fervor. “While there is a lot out there on the Underground Railroad, very little has been done about New York City,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner, a professor at Columbia University. “This was pretty much a pro-Southern town and the Underground Railroad was operating in much greater secrecy than in many other parts of the North, so it was a lot harder to ferret out.”
Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
The dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom. More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.
As Foner details in his new book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, New York was a crucial way station from the Upper South through Pennsylvania and onward to upstate New York, New England and Canada. Between 1830 and 1860, a handful of New Yorkers, black and white, helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves make their way out of bondage. Their story forms a chapter of resistance to slavery that has, until now, received relatively sparse attention from historians.
The book draws on a “very remarkable and unusual document” that had been gathering dust in Columbia’s manuscript archives for more than a century. The Record of Fugitives, compiled by New York City abolitionist newspaperman Sydney Howard Gay, was unknown to scholars until a student tipped off Foner to its existence. As he began to comb through it, he discovered a meticulous accounting of the movements of more than 200 fugitive slaves who passed through the city in the 1850s.
The Record speaks of fugitives long forgotten “such as James Jones of Alexandria who, Gay recorded, ‘had not been treated badly, but was tired of being a slave.’“ But he was an exception, according to interviews Gay and his colleagues conducted. As Foner relates, many fugitives cited physical abuse as much as a desire for freedom as the reason they ran away, using words like “great violence,” “badly treated,” “ruff times,” and “hard master” in their complaints.
John Jay II, the grandson of the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, also appears in the Record. By the late 1840s, he had emerged as the city’s leading lawyer in fugitive slave cases, frequently providing his services free of charge, “at great risk to his social and professional standing,” as Gay wrote.
The book includes accounts of escapes aided by the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, but also by a little-known and strikingly named man whose death certificate decades later would list his occupation as, “Underground R.R. Agent.”
Louis Napoleon was an illiterate African-American furniture polisher and porter who may have been born a slave in New York or Virginia. He appears on the very first page of the Record taking a fugitive to the train station. His name later turns up in letters, writs of habeas corpus and in some of the most important court cases arising out of the contentious Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
Napoleon lived around the corner from Gay’s office in lower Manhattan, not far from the ferry terminal where passengers from Philadelphia and points farther south disembarked. He was, Foner said, “the key guy on the streets in New York bringing in fugitives, scouring the docks, looking for people at the train station.” As the Brooklyn Eagle would observe in 1875 of the then elderly man, “few would have suspected … that he had ever been the rescuer of 3,000 persons from bondage.”
The author, who used the Record as a jumping off point to delve deeper into New York’s fugitive slave network, also traces the origins of the New York Vigilance Committee, a tiny group of white abolitionists and free blacks that started in 1835 and would form the core of the city’s underground network until the eve of the Civil War.
“Over the course of its life,” Foner wrote, “it propelled the plight of fugitives to the forefront of abolitionist consciousness in New York and won support from many outside the movement’s ranks. It forced the interconnected issues of kidnapping and fugitive slaves into the larger public sphere.”
Gateway to Freedom brings to two dozen the number of books Foner has written on antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction America. His previous book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize.
I spoke to Eric Foner about New York’s hidden role in the Underground Railroad.
How did this book come about?
This is an unusual book for me. This started with this one document, the Record of Fugitives, which was serendipitously pointed out to me by a student at Columbia who was doing a senior thesis on Sydney Howard Gay and his journalistic career. She was in the manuscript library at Columbia and said there’s this thing about fugitive slaves and I’m not sure what it is but you might find it interesting. So I kind of filed it in the back of my mind. It was virtually unknown because it was not catalogued in any way. You had to know it was there to find it.
What was New York like during this time?
The prosperity of New York City in the half-century before the Civil War was closely tied to slavery and the cotton South. This was a city whose merchants basically controlled the cotton trade, and had very close ties with cotton plantation owners. Many of the jobs on the docks were connected to this. The shipbuilding industry, insurance companies, the banks who helped to finance slavery. Southerners were here all the time. They came to do business, they came up for vacation. Lincoln never carried New York City either time he ran for president. Now, of course, there was a free black community and there was this quite small band of abolitionists, but it was a very difficult environment for them to work in.
Was there one Underground Railroad or many?
There were routes in Ohio, Kentucky. This was one major set of routes I call the metropolitan corridor because it went from city to city up the East Coast. It was one of a series of networks that assisted a good number of fugitives. Nobody knows how many.
One shouldn’t think of the Underground Railroad as a set group of routes. People thought, ‘Oh you could make a map. Here’s where they went.’ It was not quite so organized as sometimes we think. It was not like there was a series of stations and people would just go from one to another. It was more haphazard. It was more disorganized -- or less organized, anyway. But there were these little networks of people who were in contact with each other and would assist fugitives. And once they got further north to Albany, Syracuse, then they were in the real anti-slavery territory and it became very much more open. It was totally public and nobody seemed to do anything about it. People advertised in the newspaper about helping fugitive slaves. That was a very different environment than New York City.
How did fugitive slaves get to New York?
‘Underground Railroad’ should be taken somewhat literally, toward the end anyway. We tend to think of runaway slaves as running through woods and of course that happened but from the 1840s and s, many of them came to New York by railroad. Frederick Douglas just got on a train in Baltimore and got to New York.
A lot got to New York by boat. Ship captains took money from slaves to hide them out and bring them to the North. There were a lot of blacks working on vessels at that time.
The book also looks at the larger impact fugitive slaves had on national politics.
Most of these fugitives who ran away are anonymous but they helped to place the slavery question on the national agenda. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was a very draconian law that aroused a lot of opposition in the North. Local action, local resistance actually reverberated way up to the national level. So that’s another thing I wanted to emphasize -- not just the stories of these people but the way that their actions actually had a big effect on national politics and the coming of the Civil War.
About Andrea Stone
Andrea Stone has covered national news, politics and foreign affairs for USA TODAY and other large media outlets, for more than three decades. She is now a freelance writer.