Detroit’s abandoned tunnel systems open the door to another world

Beneath the streets of Detroit lies a network of tunnel systems every bit as complex as the bustling city above them.

Uncovering this underworld opens a cave of secrets essential to understanding Detroit’s history. While most of the tunnels are now abandoned and closed to the public, learning about these labyrinths can illustrate the city’s importance on a national level.

From the salt mines used to launch the city into economic prosperity at the beginning of the 20th century to the remains of hidden caves used to store alcohol during US Prohibition, discover what lies below:

The remains of a crosswalk in Highland Park at Second Avenue and Pilgrim on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.The remains of a crosswalk in Highland Park at Second Avenue and Pilgrim on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

The remains of a crosswalk in Highland Park at Second Avenue and Pilgrim on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

Pedestrian paths

About 100 years ago, the popularity of cars gave rise to them Historic rise in pedestrian deaths. Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood, which had approximately 50,000 residents in the early 1920s, reported a Historic rise in pedestrian deaths In 1924.

And it was the solution To build an underground tunnel To direct all pedestrian traffic, similar to the pattern of underground passages seen in London and Canada. Three more tunnels were built at the Highland Park intersection in 1925, including one downtown at Cass Street and Peterborough Street, although no physical remains of the latter site exist today.

Documented by TikTok user @Colin313 in July 2022, Elevated Cement in Highland Park The tunnel can be seen at an angle Cortland and Second Avenue.

The remains of a crosswalk in Highland Park at Second Avenue and Cortlandt Street on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.The remains of a crosswalk in Highland Park at Second Avenue and Cortlandt Street on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

The remains of a crosswalk in Highland Park at Second Avenue and Cortlandt Street on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

Salt mines

Saltpeter was discovered deep beneath the streets of Michigan in 1895, and almost immediately, horizontal layers of salt were mined for the resource-rich currency.

By 1906, Detroit established the Detroit Rock Salt Company to develop a safe and effective method of salt extraction. It took years of formation before the column reached 1,060 feet tall It was dug in the heart of the city By 1914, Detroit was exporting 8,000 tons of saltpeter each month.

300 feet below street level, a worker oversees a conveyor belt as it carries chunks of rock salt toward the surface from the International Salt Mine, Detroit, Michigan.  This photo was taken by the late Detroit Free Press chief photographer Tony Spina on January 14, 1971.300 feet below street level, a worker oversees a conveyor belt as it carries chunks of rock salt toward the surface from the International Salt Mine, Detroit, Michigan.  This photo was taken by the late Detroit Free Press chief photographer Tony Spina on January 14, 1971.

300 feet below street level, a worker oversees a conveyor belt as it carries chunks of rock salt toward the surface from the International Salt Mine, Detroit, Michigan. This photo was taken by the late Detroit Free Press chief photographer Tony Spina on January 14, 1971.

The mines remained operational until 1984 and reopened after a brief hiatus in 1983 to provide the road salt the city uses today. Road salt is the only form of salt currently produced by mines, and tours were briefly offered in the mid-1980s but have now been discontinued due to ongoing production.

more: A look inside the salt distribution operation in Wayne County each winter

Tunnels in the Fisher Building in Detroit

The Fisher Building was established in Detroit in 1927 by the Fisher brothers, whose Fisher Body Company was responsible for the closed body structure of the 1910 Cadillac and the introduction of the first four-door sedan bodies.

This tremendous success in reimagining the automobile industry motivated the brothers to purchase 32 lots along West Grand Boulevard “A testament to the Fishers family’s activism in Detroit.”

The 441-foot-tall Art Deco building is flanked by two 11-story, flat-roofed wings topped with a glowing green spear.

Underground, an elaborate tunnel system connected Fisher’s car to the New Center and General Motors buildings to facilitate employee transportation.

The tunnels are open today, although all the once-bustling storefronts are now closed.

more: 10 amazing facts about the Fisher Building in Detroit

Detroit Medical Center Tunnels

Adjacent to Wayne State University’s downtown campus Detroit Medical Center houses eight hospitals in a one-block area Surrounded by John R, Mac, St. Antoine and East Canfield Street. The tunnel system connects all the hospitals, providing safe and smooth travel for patients and medical staff alike.

Prohibition era tunnels

Just over 100 years ago, Detroit became the first major US city to impose a banThe complete criminalization of alcohol and those who distribute and consume it, which lasted more than a decade before it was repealed in 1933.

Almost as soon as the law was passed, underground bootlegging and bars began to spring up, with some experts estimating that the Detroit River crossing into Canada was responsible for 75% of the flow of alcohol into the United States during Prohibition.

Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill is located at 624 3rd Street in downtown Detroit.Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill is located at 624 3rd Street in downtown Detroit.

Tommy’s Detroit Bar & Grill is located at 624 3rd Street in downtown Detroit.

Tommy’s Bar on Third Avenue was formerly owned by businessmen affiliated with the city’s notorious Purple Gang, and a WSU-sponsored archaeological dig took place in 2013 Discover the underground spoke and tunnel system It leads to a false room below the bar.

Utility tunnels

The utility tunnels, installed in the early 1950s, under Detroit’s downtown and downtown streets, carried water and steam needed to fuel the area.

"The sly ones" (1956) by the late Detroit Free Press photographer Tony Spina.  Workers dig a utility tunnel under Detroit, Michigan.  Part of a series."The sly ones" (1956) by the late Detroit Free Press photographer Tony Spina.  Workers dig a utility tunnel under Detroit, Michigan.  Part of a series.

“The Muckers” (1956) by the late Detroit Free Press photographer Tony Spina. Workers dig a utility tunnel under Detroit, Michigan. Part of a series.

A network of steam tunnels and The pipes date back to 1903 and are used to heat buildings All over town today. The tunnels reach a depth of 60 feet below the street surface and open into a shaft measuring 10 feet by 10 feet. It extends for miles.

The steam rings ran on coal Even converting it into natural gas in the 1970s, and the Detroit Incinerator had become the primary source by 1986.

Steam is also used to cook hot dogs at Lafayette Coney Island and brew beer at Detroit Beer Co.

outside the city…

Detroit Metropolitan Airport Light Tunnel

A tunnel of psychedelic lights connects concourses A and B/C at Detroit Metropolitan Airport to an original soundtrack.

Located at McNamara Station, the light tunnel is approximately 800 feet long and is illuminated by 9,000 feet of glass panels and LED lighting. Moving walkway Carries passengers through the tunnel.

For those who are sensitive to light or noise, there is a “suspend button” at the end of each tunnel to pause the light and music show for 15 minutes.

Northland Center Underground Tunnels

Down the halls of the former Northland Center in Southfield It is a maze of tunnels miles longwith an astonishing 484 rooms, dates back to 1954. The tunnels were primarily used to deliver trucks to and from Northland warehouses, and also included storage space and nuclear bomb shelters.

The unique system of service tunnels set a precedent for surrounding malls, although they were off-limits to the public and remained closed and impassable after the mall closed in 2015. The tunnels were likely buried during the mall’s demolition in 2021. Leaving behind a treasure trove of arcade games And mannequin torsos.

This article originally appeared on the Detroit Free Press: Detroit’s abandoned tunnel systems open the door to another world

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