Tunnel With Possible Links To Underground Railroad Found Under Art Gallery

[Screenshot/YouTube/Visit Beaver County]

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A recent effort to replace an aging sewer line underneath a Pennsylvania art gallery led to the discovery of a hidden tunnel some researchers believe has connections to the Underground Railroad. 

After experiencing some problems with their sewer, the Merrick Art Gallery in New Brighton opted to have the faulty line replaced, leading workers to discover a brick-lined tunnel hidden dating from the 1800s, USAToday reported. “We are not positive, but we do think it may be related to the Underground Railroad,” Michelle Long, director of the Merrick Art Gallery, told the outlet. “We’d have to prove it a bit more, but in my heart and mind there’s a connection.”

The Underground Railroad was a clandestine operation connecting a network of people in different locations throughout the United States that would help facilitate the escape of slaves running away from bondage in the South.  It operated chiefly from the late 18th century until the end of the Civil War.

Long’s instincts might prove factual as historians in New Brighton have already documented the location of several Underground Railroad stops throughout the borough including the local James Edgar house, built in 1849, the outlet reported. Edgar was a Presbyterian abolitionist who used his home as an inn and livery stable. Local legend claimed his two-story home was connected by a tunnel to the Erie-Pittsburgh Railroad which, incidentally, is the spot now occupied by the Merrick Art Gallery, USAToday reported. (RELATED: Archaeologists Say They’ve Found Harriet Tubman’s Home In Maryland)

A historic marker for Edgar’s house denotes how fugitive slaves were transported through the tunnel to Edgar’s basement where they would be transferred to a safe house. Not only does the discovery of the tunnel confirm the legend of the secret tunnel, insurance documents from the era show Edgar owned a stable on the site where the tunnel probably ended, the outlet stated.

After uncovering the entrance to the 5-foot tunnel, Long’s son-in-law explored its 150-foot length before coming to a bricked-off end under present-day Fifth Avenue. In the 19th century, however, that site was home to a church whose foundation would have “butted up against the tunnel,” Long told the outlet, adding, “So, it seems pretty convincing.”

Long’s husband, Jim, who discovered old blueprints indicating the tunnel’s presence on the Merrick Gallery grounds, theorized the railroad put in the tunnel as an area for locomotives to release steam before pulling into the station at New Brighton, the outlet reported.

Mike Spratt of the New Brighton Historical Society has also mused on the tunnel’s original purpose but believed “it probably did help runaways.”