SALEM - City workers trying to improve storm water drainage on South Broadway Avenue between State and Pershing streets uncovered part of Salem's past along with a mystery - a large manmade, tunnel-like structure two feet below the street surface.
"Nobody we've talked to has any idea what it is," city street foreman Jim Phillis said Thursday.
The circular cavern or tunnel constructed of bricks measures about 11 1/2 feet deep and about 9 1/2 feet across - large enough for a person to stand inside. Phillis said it's probably large enough for a golf cart to drive through.
From left, city Street Foreman Jim Phillis, Salem Historical Society President David Shivers, city Council President Mickey Cope Weaver, Mayor John Berlin and city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst look at the old tracks from the former Y& O railway used for trolley cars on South Broadway Avenue. The tracks were discovered just below the surface of South Broadway Avenue when the road was opened up to install a storm sewer pipe. Also discovered was a large tunnel-like circular brick structure about 2 feet below the surface which appears to be about 9 1/2 feet across and 11 1/2 feet deep. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
Less than a foot below the surface in the southbound lane they also found train tracks - evidence of the old Y & O Railroad electric trolley which operated from 1907 to 1931, according to an old photograph and information posted on a wall at city hall.
City Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst said it would be "kind of neat if rails could talk - all that history."
The old brick street could also be seen, with two of the bricks pulled out and handed to Salem Historical Society President David Shivers and Dale Shaffer Research Library Building Committee member and city Council President Mickey Cope Weaver, who came up to see the discoveries and take photographs. The bricks will be added to the museum collection.
"It's important that when something like this is found that we record it," Shivers said.
Kenst said since they had the street closed to remove the brick crosswalks from the downtown revitalization project from the 1990s, they decided to take advantage of the timing and open up the street to fix a drainage problem.
Phillis explained there were two catch basins on Broadway that didn't work and were plugged, so they jetted the line or forced water through it and discovered the line it was supposed to take was plugged full. They had put dye in the storm sewer which came up in the basement of a business on Ellsworth Avenue.
To fix the situation, he said they decided to reroute the storm water from the west side of Broadway by installing a pipe across the width of the street to connect with a different line that leads into the Gahanna, a large storm sewer system built deep under the surface of Salem over 100 or more years ago.
When they opened up the street surface and started digging down, workers discovered the railway tracks, then dug a little deeper and found the brick structure, which they had to go through to install the pipe.
Phillis said they were careful not to disturb the key stone which is located at the top of a round brick structure which locks all the bricks into place. He said they had trouble busting through the structure.
Once they found it, they pumped 1,500 gallons of water with dye in it to see where it went, but he said they found no traces of the dye in the storm water system or runoff. He said it didn't appear to link to any of the city systems and the dyed water went nowhere. He didn't know how far the structure went.
Phillis wasn't sure if was part of the Gahanna at one time or whether it was part of a tunnel system. Salem was known as a stop on the underground railroad used by slaves to escape to the north, with many old homes having tunnels and hiding places where the slaves would stay to remain undetected.
Both Shivers and Museum Director David Stratton said they would have to start investigating and go through the historical records to see what they can find about the newly discovered structure.
If anyone has information, Mayor John Berlin asked that they call Kenst at city hall at 330-332-4241.
When told about the dimensions of the tunnel-like structure, Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart said "that's history that should be investigated." He didn't think it was part of the Gahanna system.