I can’t resist a good challenge, a good mystery. When daily life doesn’t present enough mysteries (unless you happen to be Hercule Poirot, Nancy Drew or the like), you have to go looking. I had little clue there was such an elaborate underground world here in NEPA until I stumbled upon the Underground Miners website.
Our coal mining history is common knowledge—but many of us are under the impression that the since the mines were abandoned years ago, they also ceased to exist or at least to be accessible. Living “up da Valley” for the past two years and hiking these mountains with Rich started to change my mind. The signs were all around! The miners are still with us. And the Underground Miners have shown that with a little time and trouble, lots of preparation and a dash of fearlessness, we can still enter the mines and listen to their stories.
Coal mines are fascinating, but what’s more intriguing than a tunnel you knew nothing about, that travels for at least several miles beneath the city and emerges at two distant but familiar points? Through the Underground Miners’ site, I learned of the Pennsylvania (also called Underwood) Tunnel and just had to find the entrance for myself.
I knew we were looking for a gated concrete portal along the east bank of the Lackawanna, somewhere between Olyphant and Scranton. That’s quite a stretch, and I needed to find some information to narrow down the possibilities. Google brought me to the LRCA site, which for years has proved a treasure trove of local history “nuggets”, site access hints, and interesting avenues for further exploration. Buried in Appendix C of the River Conservation Plan I found this simple statement:
A noteworthy feature on the east bank below the intersection of Boulevard Avenue and Olyphant Avenue, is the portal entry of the Underwood Tunnel, constructed by the Pennsylvania Coal Company in 1909. This three-mile long rock tunnel runs on a east-northeast alignment to Dunmore, near the I-81/PA Rte. 347 interchange, where it turns to the northeast, terminating in the Underwood Colliery workings in Throop. This tunnel was built to drain the mines along its route.
and Bingo, we have our portal and we’re on our way. Our suspicions were confirmed that night by a local contact whose hint was “it’s between the recycling center and Green Ridge Pizza.”
Now, how to access it?
After our successful scouting of the “Bridge to …?” Rich and I continued southwest along Main Ave. through Dickson City to Parker Street, where we turned and went over the bridge, merging onto Boulevard Avenue. No luck here, as the bank is horribly steep and the avenue is lined with houses built very close together. We decided to detour through Green Ridge and into the Plot, and pop out on the west bank of the river. A look across from the right spot, and we should easily see the portal.
Our first stop, at the southwest end of Shawnee Avenue, yielded nothing but frozen faces and asses and plenty of mud and goose shit (I guess we should’ve just stayed in the car). A drive to the northeast end of Shawnee, however, and then a hop-skip-jump through the mud to the riverbank brought us face to face (well, with a river between) with the sought-after portal. Yipeee! A five-second celebration was enough in that kind of wind, and we headed right back to the car. By this time it was 3:00pm on a Friday, and all the crazies were out. We scouted a few more very minor sites by car, and then headed back to Rich’s to trade sauce and, well, so that I could track mud across his floor (sorry about that, but at least I paid the maid!).
The story shall continue when we find the other entrances, and if/when we enter the tunnel itself. For now, I’m satisfied to know another of NEPA’s intriguing little secrets.