Buried beneath Brooklyn's congested Atlantic Avenue is a secret that lay hidden for over a century. The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, also known as the Cobble Hill Tunnel, was built in 1844 to allow the Long Island Railroad to bypass the growing thoroughfares of downtown Brooklyn on its way to the East River ferries carrying goods into Manhattan. The tunnel was supposed to be destroyed in 1861, but the unscrupulous owners decided to wall it off instead and pocket the taxpayer money allocated for the demolition. Over the years, the tunnel's location was forgotten, but it remained an important piece of local lore. News stories over the next 120 years claimed the lost tunnel was a pirate hideaway, a rum runners den, a hideout for German saboteurs, and a favorite dumping ground for gangland murders.
Bob Diamond discovered the tunnel in 1980. At the time, he was a 19-year-old engineering student who had set out on a personal quest to find the tunnel and all the secret loot hidden within. When he finally located the tunnel, climbing down a manhole and crawling deep into a space only 18 inches high, there was no pirate booty or steam locomotives to be found, but what he uncovered was one of the most dramatic and fascinating forgotten spaces in New York City.
Approximately once a month, Bob runs a tour of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, which we went on this past weekend. Descending a manhole into a dark, subterranean passage was positively inviting to get out of Sunday's pissing rain; it was also pretty exciting to open up a manhole cover in the middle of Atlantic Avenue. There were at least 100 other visitors who joined us inside the half-mile-long tunnel, and for the next hour and half or so, Bob regaled us with stories about the tunnel's past, its rediscovery, and its future. The tunnel's two portals were formerly at Hicks Street and Boerum Place, but those entryways have been sealed off, meaning there are still areas of the tunnel yet to be explored. Bob is hoping to receive funding to open up the Hicks Street portal, as he believes a steam locomotive from the 1840s lies on the other side of the wall. Check out pictures from our tour below.
Bob now runs the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, a group dedicated to restoring the borough's past connections to the railroads. They have worked on a variety of projects, including one to re-establish streetcar service in Brooklyn, especially to the underserved neighborhood of Red Hook. Bob has restored several vintage streetcars to working order; you can see three of them behind the Fairway Market in Red Hook. Many of Bob's streetcars were formerly stored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but unfortunately, their current whereabouts is unknown (but we're looking into it - let us or Bob know if you have any information about this). You can learn more about BHRA's past and ongoing projects (it looks like there's growing support for their Red Hook trolley line) at their website. Forgotten NY also has some interesting information about the trolleys.
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