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Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (or Cobble Hill Tunnel of the Long Island Rail Road) is an abandoned railroad tunnel beneath Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, New York. When open, it ran for about 2750 feet between Hicks Street and Boerum Place.

It was opened on December 3, 1844 and was finished by January 1, 1845, as an open cut--that is, a reinforced trench open to the sky. It was built to reduce the grade of the railroad line on its way to the South Ferry at the foot of Atlantic Street (now Avenue), from which passenger could catch ferries to New York City (Manhattan Island).

Five years later a "sturdy brick arch" was placed over the cut, making it a true tunnel. As built, the tunnel was 21 feet wide, 17 feet high and 1,611 feet long.

Insofar as it carried railroad trains under a city street, it could be described as the first subway built in the world, though unlike a modern rapid transit subway, it had no stations. The ends of the tunnel were sealed in the fall of 1861.

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 the tunnel. In the 1920s the tunnel was reportedly used for both mushroom growing and bootleg whiskey stills. In 1936, New York City police broke into the tunnel with jackhammers to look for the body of a hoodlum supposedly buried there. In 1941 the tunnel 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 into myth, but was rediscovered by the 18-year-old Robert "Bob" Diamond in 1981, who entered from a manhole at Atlantic and Court Street. 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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