The United States is full of so much rich history through its bustling streets and busy buildings that we oftentimes forget how much history is located right beneath our feet, in the underground cities of America. When our nation expanded into industrialization we developed newer ideas, newer systems, and newer ways of living, leaving the old ways in the past, and under our streets in some cases. While many of these underground systems were built for sanitation, sewage, flood prevention, and storage purposes, they were more oftentimes used for illegal trade, brothels, dens, and mafia hangouts, making these tunnels and old streets more mysterious and dangerous. We’ve comprised a list of some of the best underground cities you can tour, and some you just may want to know about!
Seattle, Washington - Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour serves as a highly popular 90 minute old city tour as well as a double whammy history lesson. The tour will tell your group the history of the fire that destroyed downtown Seattle in 1889 as it shows you the original streets sitting eight feet below the current in-use road system. You will also learn about how this site became a tourist attraction in the 1950s as you explore the old bank vaults, toilets, and storefronts. Hear about the odd city plumbing and "seamstress" services provided in these tunnels with this campy but educational tour of Old Seattle!
Portland, Oregon - Portland is notoriously known for its mysterious Shanghai Tunnels, and this is your opportunity to discover them yourself with Portland Underground. The tunnels once legend to being the gateway to seaside slavery for unsuspecting men drinking in bars, told to be bludgeoned and drug through the tunnels to a desperate ship captain, run under Chinatown to downtown, connecting various bar and hotel basements throughout the city and ending at the Willamette River. The original intent of these tunnels was to move goods easily from ships to factories without street traffic, as you will learn all about on your two hour tour through 20 miles of Forbidden City tunnels and history!
Sacramento, California - Underground Tours Sacramento will take your group through the hollow sidewalks of what was once the original level of this busy and beautiful city. Staci Cox leads these fun one hour tours and fills guests in on the original history of these underground spaces, first built in 1863 to prevent flooding in buttressed properties. Your group will have the opportunity to see excavated foundations and recovered 1800s era artifacts such as still full perfume vials, alcohol jugs, and even hairbrushes left behind. You will also tour the four brothels that lined these streets under the populations feet for many years!
Ellinwood, Kansas - Ellinwood, Kansas, holds a sort-of ghost town underneath its streets, a long-time deserted hang out and hot spot for this region that is used today for tourist purposes only. This city was once a popular and important Santa Fe Trail stop, and the subterranean spaces you can tour now were once home to many saloons, shops, and bathhouses (which of course means brothels as well). You will get to walk through one of the most well-preserved underground shops, Jung's Barber Shop, and see many of the original furnishings and tools used for the railroad workers needing a quick cut!
Washington D.C - Though not as historically important, Washington D.C. Underground is a vastly used underground system in the United States that many people outside of government work do not know about. In this extremely large underground labyrinth connecting many government buildings and subway stations you will find hundreds of restaurants, retailers, food courts, and concessions lining the hallways used daily by important congressmen and government officials travelling to and from work.
Kansas City, Missouri - Another unhistorical but currently important and in-use underground location is in Kansas City, Missouri, at SubTropolis. This huge underground site holds six million square feet of space and is still growing today. Created from excavated mines in 1964 this underground work station is home to several businesses and thousands of workers who enjoy the constant 68 degree weather and heavy geothermal protection. The United States Postal Service even uses this are as a storage space for collectible stamps, and it is rumored that there are thousands of important city and state documents stored here as well!
Honorable Mentions - These next places are places well-known, unreachable, or off-limits to the public but are worthy of noting nonetheless.
- Cheyenne Mt, Colorado - This area was once used as a fallout nuclear war shelter during the Cold War for the government and is rumored to be a museum soon, featuring the history of NORAD.
- Houston, Texas - Like Washington D.C., this underground work tunnel system is no big secret to the employees of the city and holds many eateries and amenities along the way.
- New York City, New York - Underground New York is full of currently used subways and long-forgotten meat packing district cattle tunnels, as well as vaults below Little Italy and the Public Library and SoHo rumored trading tunnels.
- Chicago, Illinois - It is no secret that Chicago had some wacky flood prevention planning and infrastructure, and today the underground original street system is used for trash trucks and city workers to do their job without running into insane city traffic along the way.