The 9ft tall historic tunnel was discovered when a sidewalk excavation was taking place.
After we live in a home for a while, we begin to think that we know it inside and out. There are times, however, we may discover something about the home that makes us wonder what else may be hidden from sight.
A man in Illinois named Gary Machens had just such a surprise. Part of the sidewalk in front of his home began to deteriorate and an entryway was discovered. Eventually, they were able to locate a large tunnel that ran under his home and learned more about why it may have been constructed.
The tunnel was discovered when the sidewalk excavation was taking place. They were repacking the rock in the area and discovered the tunnel. Machens was speaking with a local news station while giving an interview from inside of the tunnel. He spoke about how all of the brick must’ve taken many men and many man-hours to construct.
Although nobody is sure exactly when the tunnel was constructed, historians have visited and felt that it is from 1840, or perhaps earlier. According to Machens, the history of his home can be traced back to the 1890s. During the years that it has been in existence, three former mayors lived in the house but he isn’t sure if any of them knew about the tunnel.
The strange thing is, the tunnel existed for some 50 years or longer before the home was built. They don’t know why the tunnel was constructed or what it was used for, but according to maps from as early as 1863, there was not a house at the location.
In the video clip, you can see a set of stairs and a crawlspace that may or may not have been part of the Underground Railroad. There was also a space that may have been used as a cellar or an ice storage area.
Machens said: “It could have been used for the Underground Railroad. There’s no proof of that but there was a ferry here in the Alton area to the Missouri side and it’s possible it could have been used for that.”
They did check with the Landmark Historic Society since there are other tunnels in the Alton area, but none of them are like that one. It may be possible that the opening to the tunnel was covered when the street was lined with brick around 1895.
As a history enthusiast, Machens hopes that he can give tours to the underground tunnel, provided he can get some assistance with the cost. At this time, the tunnel entry is being resealed as the sidewalk is repaired.