The NYC Landmarks Project


Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel (1844)

Designated National Historic Landmark 1989

Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

Entrance at corner of Court Street


The Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel is the first subway tunnel to have been built anywhere in the world. It was constructed in 1844 by the Long Island Railroad in order to protect pedestrians along Atlantic Avenue from trains with poor brakes. The tunnel was wide enough to fit two standard gauge railroad tracks. The tunnel was closed off towards the end of the 19th century and its existence was almost entirely forgotten until 1980 when Bob Diamond rediscovered it. The entrance to the unimproved tunnel (bring a flashlight and wear sneakers) is through a manhole in the middle of Atlantic Avenue at the corner of Court Street.

This landmark holds a special place in my heart. I visited the tunnel for the first time when I was in grade school when my class was one of the first groups of public visitors admitted. My 2nd grade mind misinterpreted what Bob Diamond meant by "underground railroad" and until I was in my 20s, I thought the tunnel had been used to secretly move escaped slaves. Brooklyn, after all, was home to an ardent anti-slavery community throughout the 19th century.

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