Saturday, June 24, 2006

Chinese living underground????


Sometime in the last 6 years we visited a city underground, where Chinese immigrants lived while building the Transcontinental railroad. It was somewhere in the Midwest I believe and I would like to locate it again. Does anyone know where I am referring to?


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Sorry, but the premise of your question can't be correct because the Chinese workers on the transcontiental railroad worked mostly for the Central Pacific Railroad that never went east of Ogden, Utah. So whatever you say you saw in the midwest could not have been about Chinese immigrants building the transcontinental railroad. There are, of course, railroad tunnels in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Chinese railroad workers did work under the Sierra Nevada mountain snow drifts to build those tunnels, but not in the midwest and there is no underground city there.

Here is Lewis M. Clement’s first person account in his 1887 Statement to the U.S. Pacific Railway Commission:

"As the snow line was broached the snow increased in depth toward the summit, from a few inches to over 15 feet on a level, from actual measurements. The ground was kept bare for the graders by shoveling, upwards of one-half of the labor, and after storms, the entire grading force being expended in removing snow. Not only was it necessary to remove the snow to permit excavation, but the space to be occupied by the embankments was cleared and kept clear of snow otherwise the melting of the snow under the broad bases of the high embankments would have caused serious settlements, which, on ascending gradients already of 105 or 106 feet per mile, would in cases increase the gradient beyond the tractive power of the engine. There was a limit to this snow shoveling as the altitude increased, and this limit was reached when it required an army of men to clear away and keep clear after each storm, for a small gang of laborers. As we neared the summit of the Sierras winter was again upon us, granite tunnels to bore, deep rock cuttings to make, and retaining walls to construct. Rock cutting could not he carried on under snow drifts varying in depth from 20 to 100 feet. It was decided, no matter what the cost, that the remaining tunnels should be bored during the winter. To reach the faces of the tunnels the snow drifts were tunneled and through these snow tunnels all rock was removed. Retaining walls in the cañons were built in domes excavated in the snow — the wall stones raised or lowered to their places into the dome through a shaft in the snow."

Perhaps someone else will be able to successfully guess what you actually saw, but it is not as you describe.

6/25/2006 6:43 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


This doesn't ring a bell particularly since Chinese did not built the portion of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Midwest. They primarily worked on railroads in the West.

As to an "undergrouond" city, could you be thinking of the Chinese camp while building the Summit Tunnel on the Central Pacific? the tunnel portion was of course underground, and during the winter the camp was pretty much snowed under, and connected by snow tunnels.


6/26/2006 6:22 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Debra Shavitz"

Maybe I am saying the wrong railroad. Maybe it was the Central Pacific? But on our way back from Idaho to Chicago (maybe I80 or I70) we saw a billboard that advertised an underground city. We stopped, it was very interesting. They showed us this whole underground network of buildings. Ice companies, where Chinese immigrants working on the railroad lived, an above ground brothel, and other things. Can't remember where it was.


6/26/2006 11:43 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Two possibilities come to mind:

1. Perhaps this was along the Northern Pacific RR in Idaho or western Montana. Chinese worked on that line in the 1880s.

2. Perhaps it was along the Union Pacific, dating from after initial construction. The Union Pacific did employ Chinese in the 1870s (and perhaps 1880s). Chinese were also employed in coal and other mines and other businesses.

In any case, I am not familiar with the site you are thinking of. Perhaps it will ring a bell for others. The Central Pacific did not get West of Ogden, Utah.

—Kyle Wyatt

6/26/2006 11:45 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Lynn Farrar"

I know of no such place as no Chinese were employed by the UP.


7/05/2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"
Subject: Chinese tunnels

Quite by coincidence, someone today asked me if I was aware of the "extensive" Chinese tunnels under Pendleton, Oregon. I wasn't, but immediately wondered if this was that to which the initial question referred. A google search of: "chinese underground pendleton" did turn up some information. However it also turned up "Chinese Tunnels" which tells us that research has not supported the notion of "Chinese tunnels" in which numbers of Chinese lived.

7/10/2006 8:51 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Pendleton Underground Tours:
link 1
link 2
link 3

7/10/2006 9:03 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See the extensive discussion by Priscilla Wegars, Ph.D.:

"Many communities where large numbers of Chinese people once lived are today rumored to have so-called 'Chinese tunnels' under downtown buildings and streets. This myth continues to be perpetuated despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary ... "

7/10/2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Chinese tunnels

While I have never heard them described as "Chinese Tunnels," Sacramento does have its own underground tunnels, and once had many more. These are largly reported to be a remnant from the 1860s when the City raised its grade to avoid flooding. Brick bulkhead walls were built at the street edge of the sidewalks and the street level filled in. Buildings were either jacked up to the new level and new foundations built, or the first floor became a basement with a new entrance on the former 2nd floor. The sidewalks were decked over in typical vaulted construction (as described in the discussion of "Chinese Tunnels" [Asian American Comparative Collection: Ongoing Research, Priscilla Wegars, Ph.D., Volunteer Curator, Laboratory of Anthropology, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho]). In the blocks close to the Sacramento River the raised grade was pretty much a full story. Alleyways running through the blocks today dip down to the original grade level in mid block.

Speaking of the sidewalk vaults, I can remember many of them in the San Francisco downtown in the 1960s, with the square glass skylights, and the metal covered elevators.

—Kyle Wyatt

7/11/2006 1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Debra is referring to the Pendleton Underground Tour in Pendleton, Oregon. Practically everything they say about the Chinese supposedly "living underground" in "tunnels" is a myth. (They MIGHT have had a laundry in the basement but that is IT.) If you examine the census records for Pendleton, you will find that the Chinese lived above ground like everyone else.

7/20/2006 1:18 PM  

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