Manhattan. Brooklyn. The Bronx. Queens. Staten Island — five boroughs, make up this glorious social haven known as New York City. Recognized as having some of the tallest buildings globally and housing some of the most iconic structures in America, like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, the acclaimed "City that never sleeps" is one of the most sought-after cities on the globe. With its immense skyscrapers, flashy Broadway performances, and never-ending traffic, it can be easy to forget that there's more to New York than its shining surface — literally.

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New York City is home to 472 subway stations with more than 800 miles of track, and that's not even counting the ones forgotten about! Yes, it is known for its subways and sewers, but what else? Just what is lying below the bustling city streets? Is subterranean New York more than just another hole in the ground? Read on and embark on a journey to discover New York City underground.

Numerous Tunnels Under the Big Apple

Now let's start to wander below the busy streets of New York City. New York City has some hidden tunnels underneath. A long time ago, these tunnels were constructed for the comfort of travelers. These include Track 61, Grand Central Terminal, Myrtle Avenue Tunnel, West 91st Street station, Worth Street station, East 18th Street subway station, South 4th Street subway station, and Old City Hall subway station.

There are also seven secret tunnels like the Farley-Morgan Postal Tunnel, McCarren Pool Tunnels, East New York Freight Tunnel, Columbia University Steam Tunnels, Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, Hidden Concourse at 1271 6th Avenue, and Underground Spine of Goldwater Hospital. These subway stations have been a part of the city's fascinating history. Stories about these tunnels have been told from one generation to another. Most of these tunnels are abandoned and already forgotten.

Lost Stops

Whether due to expansion, World War II, or lack of use, many subway stations that once transported thousands have now worn out their service and become abandoned with time. Still, these subway stations have been a part of the city's fascinating history, and their stories deserve telling.

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Old City Hall

Erected in 1904, City Hall was the first New York City subway station to open to the public. Bedecked with leaded skylights, elegant chandeliers, and grand arches, the Old City Hall subway station is like an underground cathedral. Service at Old City Hall ended because the station couldn't withstand larger trains, thus rendering it amongst the least-used stations. Though no longer in use today, New York Transit Museum members may — for a fee — explore the station through exclusive guided tours.

  • Operated 1904-1945
  • Designed by Heins & LaFarge

Track 61

Located beneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Track 61 at Grand Central Terminal was initially used to carry freight and store old train cars. However, after its acquisition by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the track was repurposed for other means. Due to its ideal location beneath the famous hotel, the track became a means of discreetly allowing distinguished guests to and from the hotel. Today, the track is unused, but you can catch a brief glimpse of it while riding the Metro-North out of Grand Central.

Some myths of its uses persist today:

  • Train car (formerly) on the track alleged to belong to President FDR
  • Andy Warhol private party in 1965

Myrtle Avenue

The unsuspecting victim of the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit line rebuild, Myrtle Ave subway station used to run on the BMT line between Bridge and De Kalb Avenue. The station ran until its closure in 1956 when the entire area underwent renovations due to congestion issues at the De Kalb Ave section. During the rebuild, Myrtle Ave lost its southbound platform entirely, and the northbound platform became deserted. Today, the abandoned station is home to an artwork of 30 images (228 hand-painted panels) by Bill Brand called Masstraniscope, which was installed in 1980 and is visible on the Q and B commutes to Manhattan.

  • In use from 1915-1956
  • Built with re-enforced concrete
  • Sometimes referred to as Gold Street
  • Tunnel Vision

Though many of these tunnels faded from memory, others survived in the lore shared from one generation to another. The following tunnels have withstood the test of time, and some have even managed to regain use.

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Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

Known today as the world's oldest subway tunnel, the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is an abandoned tunnel that runs through the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill. It was built in 1844 as an open cut but was roofed over and converted into a tunnel five years after opening.

Following an 1861 controversy, the tunnel remained sealed until 1981, when Brooklyn local Bob Diamond rediscovered it and gave tours in the tunnel until its reclosure in 2010. Though no longer accessible to the public, its barrel-vaulted ceilings can be glimpsed from inside the bar Le Boudoir.

Guinness World Record Holder for oldest subway tunnel

Memorialized by Walt Whitman

Columbia University Steam Tunnels

Beneath Columbia University, there exists a tunnel system connecting most campus buildings. These tunnels act as a conduit for much of the campus' infrastructure, such as steam, electricity, and telecommunications. The oldest tunnels date back to the days of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and are extremely hot.

  • Students traveled these tunnels during the 1968 Student Strike
  • Tunnels once used to tap the university's telephone systems
  • Linked to the Manhattan Project

Freedom Tunnel

Located beneath Riverside Park in Manhattan, Robert Moses erected this tunnel in the 1930s to increase mobility to the residents on the Upper West Side. The tunnel, which used to run freight trains until 1980, expands about 2.6 miles. It became a haven for graffiti artists when regular operations on the track ended, and it's believed that the track's name came from Chris "Freedom" Pape, a prominent graffiti artist who used the tunnel walls to create some of his most notable work.

  • Once occupied by the homeless population
  • Amtrak began the use of the tunnel in 1991
  • The Freedom Tunnel is mentioned in several documentaries and books
  • More To Be Discovered?

The Unseen Beauty on the Subway

What is buried underground of the city is not any ordinary tunnel or subway that simply has passages and railroads. While most of the structures are abandoned, other tunnels are preserved for good. Some of the tunnels are quite beautiful because of their architectural designs. Some are seen with ornate decorations and stained glasses.

Others are simply seen with attractive ceilings. Who would not dare to go down the Old City Hall Subway Station which is boasted with skylights, chandeliers, and spectacular arches. It is like an underground cathedral that was hidden all this time. Another one is the Atlantic Avenue tunnel which is known to be the oldest subway tunnel in the world. Its barrel-vaulted ceiling gives the place an extraordinary view. They are just a few tunnels that will surely amaze your eyes.

Indeed, the Big Apple wouldn't be the same without the centuries-old infrastructure below. Subterranean New York City has a deep dark history, and we've just barely scratched the surface. What more lie beneath its concrete feet?

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