Thursday, July 12, 2018

Excavation uncovers evidence of the Underground Railroad

 This structure could be the entrance to one of the many tunnels believed to exist under Locust Street.
[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.


128-132 Locust Street as it appeared before demolition. 


15 comments:

  1. Why in the hell was this torn down?? A lot of history down the drain!!!

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    1. What good do you think it was just standing there? There was not one historic element left on the outside of that house and it was completely covered in fake brick. IF these tunnels were known about by the last occupants, shame on them for not bringing it to anyone's attention. But had they, what are we supposed to do about it then or even now? It's private property. I've seen hand layed Stone Wells open up after being infilled with dirt for years, that eventually eroded away. Just to have the property owner fill it in with stone. Again, it's private property that you can't tell owners what to do with it.

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  2. Sure, You are saying this; council says it's permits and hesring it's a lack of finances as the property owners ran put of money and couldn't get a refinance. If it actually was the tunnels then why would the safety fence be removed? Firmly believe it's the third choice. Why was the equipment removed. Tunnels sure but won't bet my house in it because of I am a developer, I check out things before I dig or make plans.

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    1. The project was not shut down because of the tunnels, nor does the article state that.

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  3. The building was in bad shape with the attic completely burned from a past fire. Everything was altered to complete a duplex many years ago and historical artifacts removed. I explored the basement prior to demolition and the newer walls covered these portals. Of course we cannot say this was truly a tunnel, but it was common for safe passage in many homes.

    There are so many unsolved stories that we are currently compiling to solidify our true history of Columbia.

    Chris Vera
    Columbia Historic Preservation Society

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  4. Didn't Columbia require the developers to have a performance bond prior to construction ? They better start doing that or the whole down will be gone !!, along with the tax revenues

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  5. Why did the Building of the Apartments stop?, These guys weren't Doolittle. they have done things before

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    1. Lol, Doolite sells his properties to good businesses as far as I can see. Burning Bridge Antiques & Columbia Kettle Works!

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  6. So if my house is historic I need to keep it pretty much exactly as is when renovating. Costing me a lot of extra money in the process but this house can just be torn down and replaced by an apartment that will most likely be section 8 weeks after it is done. This makes sense!

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  7. Thank you Chris Vera for all you do.

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  8. The mural at EDM is on hold and may not be put up at all!!

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  9. Perhaps they just came to realize that no matter how much experience and money you have - if you don't have have certain affiliations in this town - things just won't work. Where did Murphy get all of his development experience ?

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  10. really people? THANK YOU CHRIS VERA!!! you are passionate about the history of this town. I agree. everything SHOULD and MUST be done to preserve it. do you have ANY idea how much money this could generate for the town? this is a huge deal. people PAY to come and have a look see. this is fascinating! thanks Chris. i DO think the Boro SHOULD be doing ALL it can to preserve our towns RICH history. I still don't believe for one minute that there aren't/weren't HISTORICAL ITEMS AT THE LASA DIGGING. I will NEVER understand HOW you the Boro can LET this shit happen. THIS is totally irresponsible and unacceptable. You can never get a do over. Someone, be smart.

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