Underground Palmer July 24th, 2009

Categories: History

Are they utilidors? Are they bomb shelters? Are they underground hallways to avoid snow?  I have heard rumors about these tunnels for years.  Some people said they were put there to allow access between houses during World War II, people joked about other possible purposes.

Janet Kincaid, a longtime Palmeranian and owner of the Colony Inn and Cafe knows about the tunnels because the building that she owns is a terminus of the tunnels. She was going to meet me there but we had a scheduling mixup.  So as I waited for Janet, Mike Fisher jovially volunteered to share what he knew.

“What many people don’t know about the Colony Inn”, Mike Fisher told me, “is that there’s just about as much of the building below ground as there is above!”. The apparently 2 story building has two floors below ground as well. He took me down two flights of stairs behind the “Employees Only” door and we came out into a large open room, almost two stories high.

The walls were cement, as was the floor. But what caught my eye was the hugest boiler I’ve ever seen.  It was easily 7 ft tall and 10 ft long. I was told that the tunnels under Palmer were built in the 1930’s, along with the rest of the main buildings like the high school (borough building), Trading Post (The Red Beet) and Creamery and Warehouse (old Matanuska Maid building). The tunnels had pipes that were used to heat the many buildings all at once from two huge boilers. One boiler was at Matanuska Maid and I stood directly in front of the other one.  

Mike showed me into a dark room adjacent to the boiler room and told me it was the coal room. The ceiling was just as high but at the very top of the west facing wall was an opening. He said colonists would back trucks up to the opening and shovel coal down into the room as fuel for the boilers.

Many of the tunnels have since been caved in for road safety, as most go directly underneath the road system. The opening of one came out in the boiler room, two stories under the Colony Inn, but it was caved in and covered over in cement. You can still see the outline.

If you talk to some of the more adventurous junior high school students from a couple years ago, you can probably find people who’ve been down in the tunnels.  One of the known accesses is fenced off and is illegal to enter, but that hasn’t stopped a few of my acqaintances. I’ve been told that certain buildings have been severely damaged by fires started down in tunnels by careless youth.

Have more information on this topic? Please contact me and share your knowledge! If any of the stated facts are incorrect, again, please let me know. This is by no means the end of my research on this interesting part of Palmer’s history.

*The first photo is of the large boiler. The second is of the coal room, note the opening near the top of the photo.

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