New Brighton in Beaver County, which was founded in 1838, has countless history markers recalling the town’s past.
It’s clearly a haven for history buffs.
But a recent discovery underneath the borough’s Merrick Art Gallery still gives the director goosebumps.
“If they were gonna find a tunnel, I am glad it was at the Merrick,” said Michelle Long.
A secret tunnel from the 1800s was revealed after maintenance workers handled a plumbing issue.
The purpose for the underground passageway is not so clear, but given western Pennsylvania’s undeniable history, it could have played a role in the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes during the 19th century, helping Black slaves escape to states like Pennsylvania on their way to Canada to be free.
The documented journey took slaves coming from southern states up to the Ohio River to the Beaver River.
“They followed the North Star. Where Beaver and Ohio River meet is directly above the North Star,” Long said.
History books detail how many Quakers living in New Brighton helped slaves find safe houses.
The James Edgar House sits across the street from the Merrick. Legend has it a tunnel ran underground from the gallery, which was a train station, to the house, which was used to rescue slaves.
It’s hard to say many how runaway slaves came through New Brighton, but this tunnel may offer another glimpse into a secret network.
The tunnel dig also recently turned up old glass and relics from an adjacent demolished church.
The plan now is to keep digging to get to the other side of the tunnel, which is 62 feet. Gallery officials want to secure it and hopefully offer tours someday.
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