Touring the World’s Oldest Subway Tunnel

On the busy street of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, everything appeared to be a normal Saturday.  The Trader Joe’s was packed with long lines of shoppers, cars and people were busy going about their business.  But then a car drove up and  a small blockade was put up around one of the manholes in the middle of the street.  A ladder was set up reaching its way to the bottom and a large group of people started to line up along the sidewalk.  They were preparing themselves for the descent down the ladder and into the depths of the oldest subway tunnel in the world which was lurking below the surface.  I was one of those people waiting in line.

At the bottom of the ladder, there is a small room filled with dirt where a walkway has been dug out and you must duck under a large concrete slab in the middle of it.  At the other end, is a small oval entryway which you must go through to get to the tunnel.  Once there, you see the wooden stairway below and the enormous (and very dark) tunnel in front of you.  For those of us at the beginning of the line, we had a lot of time to look around as it took a long time for everyone in the group to enter.  After we were all assembled, it was time for the tour to begin.

Bob Diamond, who discovered the tunnel in 1981, is a wealth of information.  His tour is a narrative of different parts of NY history, politics, and his own story of researching and finding this tunnel.  There is a lot of standing and listening, but I found it all quite interesting.  As the tour progresses, the group walks through the half mile tunnel, stopping as we go along to continue the story.  You get to go the entire length of the tunnel and see where it ends.  Definitely heed their requirements of wearing sturdy shoes and bringing a flashlight.  There are many grooves from the train tracks so the ground is uneven and while there are some lights along the side of the tunnel, it is still quite dark.  It was a very hot day above ground when I went, but in the tunnel it was cold.  We were 4 stories underground and you would never know a busy street was right above you.

A brief history for the tunnel is that it was built in 1844 by William Beard.  It was in use for many years but was eventually supposed to have been filled in.  Bob Diamond did a lot of research and was able to find it in 1981.  It is from his many efforts and labors (he had to dig through the room full of dirt to get to that tunnel opening to find it) that this tunnel is now available for the public to see.  The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can sign up for an Atlantic Tunnel Tour by clicking here or calling 718-941-3160.  It is definitely something worth experiencing.