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Who would have thought that something so big could be lost. A tunnel that ran from the end of 8th street down to the west bottom. It was said to be capped and vaulted, but later abandoned in 1974. From 1962 to the time it was closed shut and abandoned, it was being researched for potential automobile use. It was lost after it was shut and wasn’t found until 2004, by two men of a survey group who saw a metal object emerging from the ground. I am going to talk about the 8th Street Tunnel, some history about the Tunnel, and what they were trying to use the Tunnel for.

One out of many photos from Wilborn photographic collection that shows some of the workers who worked on constructing the Tunnel

Monochrome, Event, Art, Monochrome photography

Looking across the West Bottoms at the 9th Street trestle and the 8th Street trestle and tunnel portal. The ICRT's powerhouse releases clouds of smoke and steam.

Sky, Rural area, Landscape, Painting

Aerial view of Kansas City, showing the 8th Street Tunnel in the left foreground

Building, Skyscraper, Urban design, Cityscape

A glimpse inside the tunnel

Line, Thoroughfare, Water, Tunnel

A trolley line that carried people from the West Bottoms to downtown

Train, Vehicle, Motor vehicle, Rolling stock

1887 8th Street tunnel

Black, Infrastructure, Building, Sky

Approximately 60 years ago, streetcar rails were a major part of everyday life. This tunnel was created at an 8.8% grade, for a much gentler slope. It was later redug in 1904 that took the slope from a 8.8% to a 5.5%. Compared to the 12th street route that was at a 20% grade, and 9th street route was at an 18% grade (Blogger, 2017). Both of those are considered very steep routes and potentially dangerous. Also, one of the biggest innovations was a single tunnel that led from the industrial quarter of the city to downtown: the 8th Street Tunnel (Newill, 2016).

The 8th street tunnel was built in 1888. This man named Robert Gillham from New York City wanted to build a cable car line but later got a greater offer that resulted in a tunnel (Pooper, Joseph). He then came together with D.M. Edgerton and Millson McCornick to come up with this idea of a tunnel. Taking hundreds of workers nearly a year to complete. Even though there were already other routes coming from the West Bottoms via street cars, one twisted around the bluff to City market and then south into Downtown. Around this time, horses and mules are what got people around town, plus the use of cable cars. 

The tunnel first started off with cable cars in April of 1888 but later switched to electric cars during the summer of 1892. The tunnel started at the top of the bluffs along 8th and Washington Street, went straight through downtown, down to the Union Train depot, across the West Bottoms and over to Kansas City, Kansas, but later extended two blocks to 8th and Broadway (Blogger, 2017). This tunnel served KC from 1888 to 1956 and moved the powerhouse for moving the cable, the cars and the people to the bottom of the tunnel on 8th street. After it was rediscovered, it was found to be caved in about halfway through. Today, tours are available for visitors. I have not been on tour in the tunnel but I plan on taking a visit.

In addition, the trolley line carried people from the West Bottoms to downtown. The tunnel closed in 1956 after operating for nearly 68 years (Donovan, 2017). A civil engineer from the 1860’s named Bill Nicks plays a big role in Kansas City’s history. He was a part of building a railroad bridge here in KC. Wilborn has over 500,00 pictures of the historic sights that have never been displayed publicly (Donovan, 2017). A small group of surveyors and engineers found a buried doorway in the hillside near Eighth Street and Washington Avenue in Downtown Kansas City. It was lost for about 40 years. There wasn’t much documentation to help find the tunnel. D. M. Edgerton built the first elevated line in the area. He then was fighting a war with Ninth Street Incline Co. to try keeping it for its original use. On the western end of the tunnel, it's plugged with cement (Pooper, Joseph).

Furthermore, authors were questioning if the tunnel could be rehabbed into being used again. They are trying to figure out how to structure the tunnel so it can be functional to cars. Around 1888, the cable cars were using a non-electrical elevated line that operated differently than current streetcars (Bernard, 2019). In 1892 the 8th Street tunnel switched to electric in 1892 because it was more efficient. Cable cars replaced horse and mule drawn street cars, and electricity replaced cable cars. During the use of the tunnel, only 1 car was allowed in the tunnel at a time because of how steep it was. There were doubts that a car could lose traction and its brakes would fail, which would cause an accident (Blogger, 2017). This is what led them to re-dig the tunnel in 1905 to make it a much smoother ride. The tunnel will forever be a fascinating piece of Kansas City history. Some parts were still attached to the tunnel but car tracks were no longer visible (Bernard, 2019).

In conclusion, a tunnel that was once used for research and transporting was lost, then found around our new age. If you are to go in there today, it has been said to see all the original brick work, the original old wiring, old light bulbs, the concrete supports that supported the double tracks and safety recesses for workers to duck into when a street car passed. There is a tour available and I plan to go on it sometime soon to see it with my own eyes. The tunnel opened in 1888 but closed in 1956. It switched from cable cars to electric street cars in 1892. Sitting at 810 feet long, 28 feet wide and 21 feet high under our Kansas City downtown (Blogger, 2017). It was found by surveyors and engineers by a buried doorway from a metal piece coming from the ground in 2004. Now, engineers are questioning if it can be renovated and used in today’s society. I believe it shouldn’t be brought back for automobile use, but it should continue to be used for small tours like it is currently. 

Bernard, Katie. Could the 8th Street Tunnel Ever Be Restored? Your KC Q Answered., Kansas City Public Library. June 12th 2019. Accessed September 29th 2021.

Blogger. Kansas City's 8th Street Tunnel, History KC. April 16th 2017. Accessed September 29th 2021.

Donovan, Alyssa. 8th Street Tunnel Gives a Glimpse into Kansas City History., KSHB. November 9th 2017. Accessed September 29th 2021.

Newill, Cody. The 8th Street Tunnel Is a Gateway to Kansas City's History - but You Probably Can't Get In., KCUR 89.3 - NPR in Kansas City. Local News, Entertainment and Podcasts.. September 16th 2016. Accessed September 30th 2021. .

Pooper, Joseph. 8th Street Tunnel, 8th Street Tunnel - Underground Ozarks. Accessed October 1st 2021. .

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Donovan, 2017

Michael Kruse

Kansas City Public Library

Donovan, 2017

Donovan, 2017

BS Herzig