Every now and then, someone finds a priceless artifact or a stash of hidden treasure in their basement or attic. And if you’ve ever lived in an old building, chances are you’ve wondered about the history of your home, too. If only those walls could talk and reveal their secrets.
A man from Alton, Illinois, was left with so many questions when he stumbled upon what his house was hiding.
Gary and Beth Machens bought their home in December 2020. The sprawling mansion is on a raised piece of land and has a rich history. Gary, an avid history buff, already knew of some of the house’s history – dating all the way back to the 1890s.
The house had been home to three mayors of Alton over the years, but none of them had known about what lay beneath it.
In April 2021, Gary and his wife happened to notice that part of the sidewalk around the house seemed to be sloping downward. Gary began to repair some broken paving and dug out the sidewalk. But when he began taking down a part of the stone wall, one slab fell away and revealed a dark cavern.
“He called me at work and said, ‘You better get home; you’re not going to believe what I just found,’” Beth Machens told the Telegraph.
Gary peered into the cavern and saw a stone archway that led to a secret tunnel.
From the sidewalk, the hole doesn’t look like much. But when Gary shone a flashlight inside he saw a cavernous bricked interior.
“A lot of brick,” said Gary, pointing at the tunnel’s walls. “Whatever they built this for, it took a lot of men and a lot of hours. You know, one guy didn’t do this,” he told FOX 2 News.
But who had built the mysterious hidden tunnel? And why?
As soon as Gary realized that what he had found could be of historical importance, he called on local historians from the Alton Area Landmarks Association to help shed some light on the mystery.
Historians came to see the tunnel and estimated that it had been built around 1840.
The experts told Gary that there were several tunnels around the area and it was a possibility that Gary’s connected up with one of those.
According to Gary’s estimations, the tunnel is around nine feet tall, nine-and-a-half feet wide, and is around 60 feet long – at least, as far as Gary knows. Further exploration to the end of the tunnel was impossible because parts of it are filled with dirt.
But the burning question was: why had the tunnel been sealed up and hidden?
After some digging into the area’s history, Gary believes he knows the answer.
Records show that the street was renovated during 1895, and these renovations raised the elevation of the sidewalk, effectively covering the entrance to the secret tunnel.
But Gary still doesn’t know what the tunnel’s purpose was, although he has a few theories.
“Yes, three former mayors of Alton have lived in this house through the years,” Gary explained to FOX 2 News. “I don’t know if any of them knew about this. The house was built in 1890, the tunnel is believed from 1840, so it was here for 50 years. What it was used for, I don’t know. We’ve got maps that go back to 1863 and this house was not there and there was not another house on this property here.”
Despite the lack of information, Gary believes that the tunnel could have been “used for maybe a half-dozen things through the years.”
He thinks it could have served as anything from an icehouse to a root cellar. But neighbors have another, wilder theory.
Some folks who live in the area believe that the tunnel could be part of the tunnels that make up the infamous Underground Railroad, although they have no concrete evidence to back this up.
The Underground Railroad was a network of underground escape routes for African-American slaves during the early to mid-19th century.
“It could have been used for part of the underground railroad. There’s no proof of that but there was a major ferry here in the Alton area going back to the Missouri side and it’s possible it could have been used for that,” Gary told FOX 2 News.
Gary still has no concrete answers about the secret tunnel under his home, but he’s happy to savor the mystery… at least, for now.
To have a look at the fascinating find, watch the video below.
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