The tunnels under Chicago are a fascinating part of Chicago’s history. This network, running under most downtown streets, once carried freight, coal and ash from department stores and office buildings. In 1899, a telephone company was given permission to lay cables but by 1900 the plan included tunnels which could carry a narrow-gauge electric railroad. As of 1909, a 60-mile network was largely complete.
By the 1930s, subway tunnels were being constructed, cutting off parts of the network and coal delivery was being handled by truck. The freight tunnels were abandoned in July 1959, although some were still used for power and communication lines. Almost forgotten by most Chicagoans, we were reminded of their presence 21 years ago today when a punctured tunnel under the Chicago River caused major flooding in buildings still connected to the tunnels.
Here are a few suggestions for additional reading on this fascinating subject:
The Chicago freight tunnels : the organization, equipment and service of the underground tubes which handle thousands of carloads of freight each day and take a great traffic burden from the busy streets of the loop. [Chicago] : Published by the Chicago Tunnel Terminal Corporation, c1928. A promotional booklet from the corporation operating Chicago’s narrow gauge freight tunnel railroad system. The booklet provides history, description and statistics of the system. Illustrations consist of photographs, small cartoon like drawings and large maps of the tunnel system. Call no. folio TF851.C4 C433 1928
Moffat, Bruce. “The Chicago Freight Tunnels.”
Moffat, Bruce. Forty feet below : the story of Chicago’s freight tunnels. Glendale, Calif. : Interurban Press, 1982. Call no. folio TF851.C4 M63 1982
Wren, Jon. “The Great Chicago Flood”