4 miles of tunnels lie below most of campus; 1908 cave-in kills man


I have heard that there are tunnels on campus. Is that true?

A system of tunnels, which lies several feet under campus and extends out from Seaton Hall, lures students to explore them every year.

The tunnels, which contain steam pipes that provide heat to most of campus, communication wires and other pipes, first were built in 1894 to heat the campus and allow students to travel from building to building underground.

Pipes were later added as the campus expanded, and the pipes now span more than four miles and are below about 95 percent of campus.

Today, exploring the tunnels is considered trespassing and perpetrators are subject to arrest.

According to past Collegian articles, the Division of Facilities encourages students to avoid the tunnels. Temperatures in the tunnels can reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and some tunnels are very small and the steam pipes can reach several hundred degrees.

The pipes also are very old, dating back to the 1930s, and many of them have had to be replaced.

The tunnels were not always monitored as closely for student traffic though. In the 1940s and earlier, students reportedly used the tunnels regularly to get to different buildings during winter months.

In those days, though students had more access to tunnels, they might have been more dangerous. Much of the original tunnels were not supported with concrete or bricks because of the hard clay soil underneath much of campus, and the tunnels regularly collapsed and leaked when it rained. The pipes also were mostly sheathed with asbestos, which eventually was removed for obvious reasons.

In 1908, a construction worker was leading a pack of mules through a tunnel that was being built to the then-new veterinary building when the tunnel caved in, killing him and the mules. When other construction workers uncovered the dead worker, he was standing with the reins still in his hands.Source: University Archives and Manuscripts

– Compiled by Scott Girard