A sewer looked at as old and rusty could be a piece of important history.
The Merrick Art Gallery in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, claims the brick tunnel, dated from the 1800s, may be a route of the Underground Railroad used by Harriet Tubman. Michelle Long, director of the Merrick Art Gallery, tells USA Today more research is needed, but it’s possible. “We are not positive, but we do think it may be related to the Underground Railroad,” Long said. “We’d have to prove it a bit more, but in my heart and mind, there’s a connection.”
The discovery comes a few days after the gallery announced a free Underground Railroad Walking Tour hosted by the New Brighton Historical Society. The event, scheduled for later this year in September, will showcase borough sites that provided safe havens for the slaves who risked everything to find freedom in the United States north. Museum officials hired Debo & Son Excavating to replace the sewer line after The Merrick suffered sewer line problems a week before.
After the ground was dug up, an employee mentioned while at the gallery on another job about 40 years ago, he said employees discovered a tunnel and immediately notified museum representatives. However, they were told to finish the job and refill the dirt.
It wasn’t until Long became the director in 2021 that it was decided the tip was too important to ignore. “So, after they were done with the sewer project, we started digging where we felt it might be,” Long said. They found the tunnel to be 5-foot-tall, reaching a length of about 150 feet. “There was a church back there at one time, and the foundation of that church would have butted up against the tunnel. So, it seems pretty convincing.”
According to The Times, the small Pennsylvania town holds sites like James Edgar’s house, which played a significant role in housing slaves, serving as an inn. “At this stop, fugitives often dressed as Underground Railroad conductors’ servants were secretly led through the tunnel to Edgar’s cellar and then transferred to an available ‘safe house,'” reads the sign outside the site.