New York City is usually pretty good about celebrating and preserving its landmarks, which is why the following story is quite disappointing. Unearthed by The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries, the fascinating tale delves into how a man named Bob Diamond rediscovered the world’s oldest subway tunnel underneath Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue only to have it taken away from him by the city. Diamond had been leading tours through the 169-year-old landmark for 30 years before officials sealed it off in 2013.
The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel dates back to 1844, when it was originally built as part of the Long Island Railroad linking Boston to New York. The 2,570-foot-long tunnel served steam-powered locomotives until New York banned them and the underground access route was sealed in 1861. Since then, the passage was reopened in the prohibition era 1920s to grow mushrooms and facilitate bootlegging, and again in the 1940s when the FBI went hunting for Nazis. Afterwards, the site was almost lost forever until Diamond rediscovered it in 1980, when he was just a 20-year-old engineering student.
After the discovery, Diamond took it upon himself to restore the tunnel instead of taking an engineering job. Over time, he built a career around the underground path, leading tours of the tunnel between 1982 and 2010. Diamond wanted great things for the tunnel including restoring it as a passageway for a new trolley line, building a museum about its history, and digging up a 177-year-old steam locomotive that was sealed in a chamber at the end of the shaft.
But eventually, the city began cracking down on Diamond when the tunnel saw an upshot in popularity in 2008 after it was featured on the History Channel. The publicity brought on a new wave of popularity as eager tourists began gathering in the middle of Atlantic Avenue for tours. At first, the NYC DOT slapped Diamond on the wrist for blocking traffic on Atlantic Avenue but before long, the agency revoked Diamond’s contract to hold tours. The downward slump continued on until late last year when the city welded the last manhole leading to the tunnel shut.
Any hope for the tunnel’s reopening lies with a lawsuit that Diamond continues to purse against the DOT and FDNY, as well as an online petition that currently stands with 809 signatures. Be sure to check out The Verge for the full story.