This structure could be the entrance to one of the many tunnels believed to exist under Locust Street.
[Photo: Chris Vera]
[Photo: Chris Vera]
The apartment building construction project planned for the bottom of Locust Street has stalled for the time being, but there is an upside: The delay has given Chris Vera an opportunity to look over the excavation site for evidence of tunnels related to the Underground Railroad, which was a network of secret routes, shelters, and people helping slaves escape to freedom in the 19th Century. The term "Underground Railroad" is believed to have originated in Columbia. Columbia's involvement in the Underground Railroad is documented in several accounts, one of which is seen HERE.
Vera, president of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, said the property at the excavation site was once owned by James Barber, a contemporary of William Wright. Wright, a Columbia citizen, is credited with laying the groundwork for the systematic transport of escaped slaves. Vera says the house would have been a single Colonial dwelling, which was later renovated and separated into two dwellings.
The recent excavation has uncovered three "ports" on the front facade of the former dwellings, below street level. According to Vera, the outer two were coal drops for the separated dwelling, but the one in the center is different. This particular structure includes stone sides and what may have been a jagged, round top. Vera believes the structure may have been the entrance to a tunnel that collapsed and was filled in during years of street repair. He said tunnel heads such as this exist on many properties around Columbia.
A similar structure, now blocked up, exists in the basement of the building across the street, now home to Art Printing. The archway there may have been the entrance to a tunnel running under Locust Street, possibly to the excavation site. Columbia Spy reported on that structure HERE.
Some Columbians believe a network of tunnels exists under Locust Street, with a few claiming to having seen several that were uncovered and subsequently filled in near Fourth and Locust Streets during a construction project several decades ago. Obviously, the tunnels point to the possibility of transporting and hiding escaped slaves in Columbia, one of the stations of the Underground Railroad.