Cobble Hill

Cobble Hill Tunnel

The Cobble Hill Tunnel (popularly the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel) of the Long Island Rail Road is an abandoned railroad tunnel beneath Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, New York City. When open, it ran for about 2,750 feet (830 m) between Hicks Street and Boerum Place.

It opened on December 3, 1844 and was finished by January 1, 1845, as an "open cut," a trench built into the bed of Atlantic Street (today's Atlantic Avenue). It was built to reduce the grade of the railroad line—prior to the opening of the original open cut, horse teams were required to assist steam locomotives in carrying trains up the steepest part of the grade—and to create a grade-separated right of way for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) on its way to the South Ferry at the foot of Atlantic Street, where passengers could catch ferries to Manhattan. Five years later the open trench was roofed over with "a sturdy brick arch" and filled on top to create a tunnel.

As built, the tunnel was 21 feet (6.4 m) wide, 17 feet (5.1 m) high and 1,611 feet (491 m) long.

Insofar as it carried railroad trains under a city street, some have claimed it be the world's first subway tunnel, though, unlike a modern rapid transit subway, it had no stations. The ends of the tunnel were sealed in the fall of 1861. The similar Murray Hill Tunnel on the New York and Harlem Railroad was built as an open cut around 1836, and roofed over around the 1850s, and is in use for automobile traffic.

Dormant decades

In March 1916, the FBI suspected German terrorists were making bombs in the tunnel, and broke through. They found nothing, installed an electric light, and resealed it. In the 1920s it was reportedly used for both mushroom growing and bootleg whiskey stills. In 1936, the New York City Police Department broke into it with jackhammers to look for the body of a hoodlum supposedly buried there. In 1941 it was again inspected by the federal Works Progress Administration to determine its structural strength. A few years later, it was once again opened, this time by the FBI, in an unsuccessful search for spies. During the late 1950s it was inspected by two rail historians, George Horn and Martin Schachne.

It fell from public notice, but was located by an 18-year-old, Robert "Bob" Diamond in 1981, who entered from a manhole at Atlantic and Court Street. Diamond popularized the tunnel as an antiquity and led tours of its interior. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.

Walt Whitman wrote of the tunnel:

The old tunnel, that used to lie there under ground, a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness, now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten, with all its reminiscences; however, there will, for a few years yet be many dear ones, to not a few Brooklynites, New Yorkers, and promiscuous crowds besides. For it was here you started to go down the island, in summer. For years, it was confidently counted on that this spot, and the railroad of which it was the terminus, were going to prove the permanent seat of business and wealth that belong to such enterprises. But its glory, after enduring in great splendor for a season, has now vanished—at least its Long Island Railroad glory has. The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent. How beautiful look earth and heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom! It might not be unprofitable, now and then, to send us mortals—the dissatisfied ones, at least, and that's a large proportion—into some tunnel of several days' journey. We'd perhaps grumble less, afterward, at God's handiwork.

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