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U.S. History

Subway To Nowhere: Cincinnati’s Abandoned Attempt To Build America’s First Subway System

Cincinnati is one of the most vibrant cities in the US today. It has a thriving job market, plenty of green and open spaces, a burgeoning food and bar scene, and some of Ohio’s best architectures. But do you know that Cincinnati has a deep, dark secret underneath all the colorful buildings and lively establishments in the city?

Almost a hundred years ago, the city planners of Cincinnati developed a design of a complex subway system that was supposed to provide public transportation in the city. The project was ultimately abandoned due to various reasons.

Today, the subway tunnels remain unused and hiding underneath the city. Only the brave and adventurous tried to explore the tunnels believed to be a haunted ground. It also became a favorite resting place for the homeless.

How It All Began?

In the early years of the 20th century, the local government of Cincinnati agreed that the best solution for the downtown congestion in the city is the establishment of a rapid transit system. Mayor Henry Thomas Hunt spearheaded the plan. The officials allocated $6 million for the project, but the construction had to be put on hold due to World War I.

When the war was over, the city officials discovered that the post-war inflation of all construction materials’ prices doubled their initial price. The city could not push through with the initial estimated cost.

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Over the years, the attempts to utilize the tunnels for mass transportation became futile. Problems like political bickerings, the start of the Great Depression and World War II, and the emerging popularity of automobiles led to the failure of subway proposals.

Despite all the delays, the city finished a two-mile underground part of the planned subway by 1923. During that time, the city’s budget ballooned to $12 million.

Complaints from Brighton residents emerged during the construction of the subway tunnels. They claimed that the blasting damaged their properties. The state examiners also had issues with the construction methods used at the time.

In January 1929, Mayor Murray Seasongood announced that the city would discontinue the existence of the Rapid Transit Commission, the team behind the subway construction.

This dark tunnel that was meant to serve as the first subway system in the US can be found underneath the city of Cincinnati.

Current Status

Despite the numerous attempts to revive the project, the Cincinnati government failed to materialize the plan. The constructed but uncompleted tunnels remain in relatively good shape. The structural integrity of the subway system can be attributed to the early builders of the facility.

In 2017, Cincinnati’s mayoral candidate Rob Richardson Jr. proposed another revival of the subway system. But he failed to offer tangible plans or other studies to support his intentions.

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Since no one uses the abandoned tunnels anymore, it became a shelter for the homeless. It also served as a photographer’s haven for those who are interested in capturing images of cold, deserted places.

The city has yet to decide what to do with the abandoned subway system beneath the bustling metropolitan. Until then, the first attempt to build a subway system in America remains in the dark.

Lisa Less
Written By

Anna received her Masters degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland. Her writing focuses on history and general lifestyle pieces. Anna has been published in various lifestyle magazines. She spends her free time reading and furthering her knowledge about the about history.


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