The famous North End is home to some of Boston’s richest history, as well as some of the hidden secrets, tucked away from even its residents: like tunnels that line the city streets. Some tunnels are well known to the public, like the Callahan tunnel, Sumner tunnel, and the Big Dig, but this specific secret tunnel, or network of tunnels, don’t have as much prominence.
It is theorized that privateer Thomas Gruchy, popular for raiding ships and importing materials in the 1700s, dug out a network of tunnels to smuggle goods from his various wharfs without having to pay taxes to the British. It’s also said that Gruchy was hired by the King of England to raid French ships, seize their cargo, and transport the goods underground, including the four carved statues in front of Christ Church, which were meant to be delivered to a convent in Canada.
The tunnels connect Gruchy’s Wharfs, distinguished houses along Salem Street, the Old North Church, and the Copps Hill Burying Grounds. With his secretive tunnels, Gruchy became hugely wealthy and fled to avoid jail time for his tax evasion and embezzlement.
The tunnels were found again in the 19th century by workmen in the basement of 453 Commercial Street, where they found a large stone arch made with imported bricks that lead further into the city toward Salem Street. The tunnels were 14 feet wide and 5 feet high and lead deeper and deeper into the subterranean world of Boston. Stories tell us that the tunnels may have been used during the Prohibition for rumrunners to bring alcohol to homes along the North End.
To further prove the existence of these secret tunnels, a writer in 1817 mentioned a possible tunnel under a house on Lynn Street and the AIA Guide to Boston reports a historical house on Salem Street with a bricked up archway.
Did these tunnels help Gruchy steal all those items or is it all a farce? Are the tunnels still in use by the owners of these special houses? Could the tunnels still be helping people smuggle goods under the streets of Boston?