Dear Mr. History Person,
Is there really a tunnel that runs from Fort Phoenix under the harbor? If so, when was it built and why?
Time to put to rest one of the most frequently asked Fort Phoenix questions.
Many folks have very strongly held beliefs that there are "secret" tunnels crisscrossing Fairhaven and most of them lead to Fort Phoenix. Some people think there’s a Fort Phoenix to Fort Taber tunnel. Some people maintain a tunnel runs from Fort Phoenix all the way across town to a house in the vicinity of Adams Street and Linden Avenue.
Most of these folks are wrong.
The biggest obstacle to most of the Secret Fort Phoenix Tunnel theories is that the fort was built atop a solid granite ledge. It’s tough to get deeper than a couple of feet anywhere around the fort without hitting bedrock. And before Henry H. Rogers had huge chunks of granite ledge quarried to build the Unitarian Church and Fairhaven High School, there was considerably more rock to the north of the fort than we see today. It even pokes out of the ground again in that high outcropping near Doane Street and in other spots. It would be pretty tough with primitive equipment to bore very far through that stuff, especially in light of obstacle number two.
The second obstacle to the Secret Fort Tunnel theories is the "secret" part. A couple of months ago I wrote about how laying the pipe to run the Herring River underground in 1903-1905 required huge sums of money and years of labor by hundreds of Italian workers using "modern" steam powered equipment, including a narrow gauge railroad for carting around the fill. For the life of me I cannot figure out how people think that in the 1700s or 1800s a tunnel could be dug across town or under the harbor "secretly."
The third obstacle is simply the question why? Why engage in such an expensive and massive undertaking so somebody could get from Adams Street to the fort?
Fourth, how have these tunnels never been discovered and made public during all of the subsequent digging and building, especially during the construction of the New Bedford-Fairhaven Hurricane Barrier in the 1960s?
No, there have never been historical secret tunnels at Fort Phoenix. But there is a modern one. And it crosses under the harbor. And like all tunnels worth their salt, it took a huge amount of money, time and equipment to build.
The coffer dam in the harbor during the building of the Hurricane Barrier. The dark area is water. Coming up from the lower left is the Fairhaven side of the barrier, and yes, those are cars parked on it.
That tunnel is part of the Hurricane Barrier itself. It was built beneath the channel, 35 feet deep, under the gates. It makes it possible for workers from the Army Corps of Engineers to cross back and forth between the New Bedford and Fairhaven sides. If one understands how the Army Corps built a cofferdam in the middle of the harbor, pumped it dry, and drove trucks and earthmoving equipment on the dry river bottom, one will understand how impossible it would have been to secretly build a tunnel to Fort Taber in historical times.
So yes, Virginia, there is a tunnel. But it’s modern. And it was never a secret.