Updated: Jun 26
In the United States, the networks of underground tunnels is far more extensive than one would ever envision. It's astonishing to discover the intricate layers of infrastructure concealed beneath the surface, comprising operational or deserted transportation tunnels, sewer lines, aqueducts, and even covert military or governmental structures. It's remarkable how, wherever you find yourself, there lies something beneath your feet that often goes unnoticed in people's thoughts. Here are just 4 of many of the USA's Abandoned Underground Tunnel Systems.
City Market Catacombs - Located at the intersection of Market and Delaware streets in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, the Indianapolis Catacombs encompass around 20,000 square feet of subterranean pathways. The entrance to the catacombs remains concealed, hidden away from public view without any external access. To enter, one must pass through a set of doors that lead to a descent of stairs into the basement. Here, the solid concrete floors swiftly give way to earthen ground. A bewildering labyrinth unfolds with over 140 columns, composing the intricate underground maze. Surprisingly, this space serves as the basement of Tomlinson Hall, an imposing four-story edifice originally erected in the 1880s. Apart from an occasional abandoned chair, there is little to be found within. Essentially, the catacombs are precisely that: a basement. In the early 1900s, during an intensely cold winter, the catacombs were opened temporarily to provide refuge for the homeless. Additionally, in 1913, after a devastating flood, they served as a staging area for distributing food and clothing to those affected. Some daring ghost hunters have chosen to spend the night in the catacombs, but their findings suggest a serene environment devoid of malevolence or sinister presence. All in all, it is a generally tranquil place.
2. Seattle Underground - Beneath the vibrant neighborhood of Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington, lies the captivating Seattle Underground—a network of galleries that has transformed into one of the city's most alluring tourist attractions. Once a bustling business district ravaged by a devastating fire, it underwent a series of urban changes that birthed an underworld notorious for illicit activities. During the mid-19th century, the Seattle Underground did not yet exist and stood at ground level. However, following the catastrophic inferno on June 6, 1889, which obliterated 66 entire blocks, a new landscape emerged.
To combat the prevalent flooding in the area, Pioneer Square and its neighboring streets were raised approximately 12 feet above their original positions (and twice as much in certain areas). This innovative approach sought to mitigate the water's impact rather than coexist with it. Consequently, the entire ground level of the surviving buildings vanished. Streets were reconstructed with arched passageways and vaulted lighting, while new walls often obscured most of the building facades, many of which were once thriving businesses. Simultaneously, owners who had lost their establishments in the fire began erecting new brick buildings.
For over a decade, the Underground Seattle became a refuge for various individuals, particularly the homeless seeking shelter during the bitter winter months to evade freezing temperatures. However, the subterranean world also harbored illicit enterprises. Deceptive shelters took advantage of the vulnerable, clandestine bars operated without paying taxes or fees before the era of prohibition, and undisclosed opium smoking dens thrived.
Between 1890 and 1906, Seattle faced a critical opium crisis coinciding with the existence of the Seattle Underground. This period aligned with President Roosevelt signing the 'Pure Food and Drug Act.' Consequently, in 1907, fearing the spread of the bubonic plague due to overcrowding among drug addicts and the homeless, the city council closed off all known entrances to the underground realm. Concerns loomed about a potential pandemic during the Universal Exposition of 1909. Ironically, it was the influenza pandemic in 1918 that claimed the lives of 700 individuals in Seattle, showcasing the unpredictable nature of public health challenges.
The older the cities, the deeper their hidden layers unravel. Take the city of Madrid in Spain, for instance, which boasts remnants of ancient Roman, Visigoth, and Arab civilizations, each contributing to its rich historical tapestry. Additionally, there are strata from more recent times, including remnants from the 20th century like disused subway lines and abandoned underground commercial galleries.
Frequently, these archaeological treasures lie forgotten for centuries, only to be rediscovered thousands of years later or sometimes even decades later. Such is the case with Derinkuyu, a remarkable underground city in Turkey. Despite its remarkable scale and significance, Derinkuyu has been rediscovered on multiple occasions throughout history, the most recent being in 1963.
3. The Abandoned Speakeasy Tunnels Of Los Angeles - Undoubtedly, Prohibition proved to be a catastrophic failure, resulting in widespread repercussions throughout the United States. It inadvertently provided a tremendous advantage to gangsters and bootleggers across the nation. By driving drinking activities underground, it effectively criminalized a significant portion of the population. During this peculiar era, Los Angeles harbored its own unique narrative, characterized by corruption, speakeasies, and a network of forgotten tunnels.
Beneath the bustling streets of LA, a labyrinth of service tunnels spans a remarkable 11 miles. These subterranean passages became conduits for smuggling operations and secret pathways leading to basement speakeasies. While most of these tunnels have since been sealed off, there are still a few accessible ones. Moreover, there is the potential for guided tours that can lead enthusiasts on an immersive journey into this hidden world.
While the majority of tunnels beneath the streets of LA serve practical purposes, it is worth noting that there is more to discover beyond the service tunnels. These subterranean networks encompassed streetcar tunnels, cash transport tunnels, and even illicit hooch passages. Abandoned subway tunnels and equestrian tunnels add to the intriguing underground landscape. Construction of these diverse tunnels commenced as early as the 19th century.
Around 1901, workers excavated beneath the Bunker and Hill Street area to alleviate traffic congestion. Pacific Electric Red Cars established their own tunnel system, while smaller passageways were created to connect different buildings, such as the Hotel Rosslyn. However, the tunnels' intended purposes had a short-lived tenure, as many were abandoned by 1920, coinciding with the advent of Prohibition.
Legends and tales abound regarding the varied use of these tunnels. Stories circulate of police employing them to transport prisoners discreetly and banks utilizing them to transport large sums of cash securely. Rumors of mobsters storing bodies in the tunnels and underground parties thriving during the Prohibition era add an air of mystique. Remarkably, due to a lack of proper documentation, numerous tunnels were forgotten and lost to the passage of time.
Today, accessing these tunnels can prove challenging, as most are closed off to the public. However, some remain accessible, serving as occasional filming locations or hidden treasures awaiting exploration. One potential entry point lies behind the Hall of Records on Temple Street, concealed within an elevator. Venturing into this subterranean world reveals a captivating blend of street art, remnants of old machinery, and iron gates that restrict access to unsafe sections of the tunnels.
It is important to note that officially, the tunnels are closed to the public.
4. Subterranean New York City - Beneath the bustling streets of Manhattan lies an extensive network of underground tunnels, reaching depths of up to 800 feet. This intricate web includes essential infrastructure like water mains and utilities, as well as the sprawling 840 miles of subway tracks encompassing 472 stations. Among these hidden passageways is the Cobble Hill Tunnel under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, which experienced multiple closures due to espionage concerns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only to be rediscovered by underground explorer Bob Diamond in 1981.
New York City boasts a collection of secretive tunnels that were originally constructed to enhance travelers' convenience. These include notable sites such as Track 61 in Grand Central Terminal, the Myrtle Avenue Tunnel, West 91st Street station, Worth Street station, East 18th Street subway station, South 4th Street subway station, and the Old City Hall subway station. Additionally, there are seven hidden tunnels, including the Farley-Morgan Postal Tunnel, McCarren Pool Tunnels, East New York Freight Tunnel, Columbia University Steam Tunnels, Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, Hidden Concourse at 1271 6th Avenue, and the Underground Spine of Goldwater Hospital. Each of these subway stations holds a captivating place in the city's rich history, with stories passed down through generations.
However, many of these tunnels now lie abandoned and forgotten. Whether due to expansion projects, the impact of World War II, or simply a lack of use, numerous subway stations that once teemed with commuters have faded into disuse over time. These forgotten tunnels have become relics of the past. It is worth noting that some underground spaces have been inhabited by homeless individuals known as "mole people," who seek shelter in abandoned subway, railroad, flood, sewage tunnels, and heating shafts. In a broader sense, the term "mole people" can also refer to a fictional concept of an entirely subterranean society or a race of humanoid moles often found in speculative fiction.
Here is a list of many of the known abandoned tunnels under the NYC area:
Cobble Hill Tunnel: Located under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, this tunnel has a rich history and has been closed and reopened multiple times.
Track 61: Situated beneath Grand Central Terminal, this secret track was used to transport influential individuals, including Presidents, directly into the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Myrtle Avenue Tunnel: A disused railway tunnel in Brooklyn that was once part of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway.
West 91st Street station: An abandoned subway station on the Broadway Line (1 train) that closed in 1959.
Worth Street station: Another abandoned subway station, located on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 and 5 trains), which closed in 1962.
East 18th Street subway station: An abandoned station on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 and 6 trains), closed in 1948.
South 4th Street subway station: A former station on the BMT Canarsie Line (L train), closed in 1956.
Old City Hall subway station: A picturesque abandoned station on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (6 train), closed in 1945.
Farley-Morgan Postal Tunnel: A tunnel connecting the James A. Farley Post Office building to Pennsylvania Station, intended for mail transportation.
McCarren Pool Tunnels: Underneath McCarren Park in Brooklyn, these tunnels were part of a former outdoor swimming pool complex.
East New York Freight Tunnel: An abandoned tunnel that was once used for freight transportation.
Columbia University Steam Tunnels: A network of tunnels beneath Columbia University, used for steam distribution and utility purposes.
Atlantic Avenue Tunnel: Considered one of the oldest known subway tunnels in the world, this tunnel was built in the mid-19th century and is now occasionally open for tours.
Hidden Concourse at 1271 6th Avenue: An underground concourse connecting multiple buildings in Midtown Manhattan.
Underground Spine of Goldwater Hospital: A tunnel system beneath Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island.
Please note that this list is not exhaustive, as there may be other lesser-known or undocumented abandoned tunnels and structures in the New York City area.