Are there really tunnels underneath downtown Columbia?

Jun 19, 2013

Subtera is an underground warehouse with 1 million square feet of space.
Subtera is an underground warehouse with 1 million square feet of space.
Credit Courtesy of MU Libraries

  This week CoMo Explained investigates the legend of Columbia's underground tunnels.


If you've lived in Columbia any stretch of time, you've probably heard the legends of tunnels that snake underneath CoMo's old downtown. The story varies: there's talk of tunnels under 9th street or Broadway or between the Missouri Theatre and Panera-there's even a legend of one long tunnel that connects Hickman and Jefferson public schools. The "Hickman Tunnel" is what they call it (though once you're on the other side they probably call it the "Jefferson Tunnel").

So are any of these underground stories true? Are there a race of mole people beneath Columbia? Listen to the podcast for the details, but let's just get the hard truths out of the way: No, there are no secret tunnels under Columbia.

But you couldn't be blamed for finding it plausible. One writer, for instance, notes that oversized basements along Broadway might give the impression that tunnels do or once existed. The basements are sometime larger than the buildings above them, giving the impression of an underground passageway that might link up with others. And as for the Missouri Theatre tunnel, it turns out that it's not uncommon for vaudeville-era theaters to build tunnels for ferreting performers in and out of the building. But in the case of the Missouri Theatre, the tunnels just aren't there.

It's all a little disappointing, but but we asked around and discovered that while there are no romantic 

  bootlegging labyrinths, there are tunnels of some sort in Columbia. And what's more, there's even a giant limestone cavern stretching on for 60 continuous acres underneath the city.

Listen to the whole CoMo Explained podcast above or (even better!) subscribe on iTunes to hear the story of Columbia's underground life.