Traveling the picturesque sidewalks of Old Town Fort Collins, you may not know what’s beneath your feet. Lori Juszak didn’t either.
In 2011, Juszak was meeting with owners of Old Town buildings to research their history for her then-new business, Fort Collins Tours, when she was asked a question she’d never expected: “Do you want to see what’s underneath?”
Some are closed or filled in by now, but a small network of tunnels sits under Old Town buildings, hearkening back to the days when horses pulled coffins through them to the morgue basement, when shop boys descended into them to bring up goods to a narrow mercantile, and when bootleggers turned to them to conduct secret liquor transports during Prohibition.
They’re “pieces of lost history, things that people really hadn’t recognized in 50, maybe 75 years,” said Juszak, whose company now leads visitors through Old Town’s history — both above and below ground — year round.
Most Colorado tunnels were used for delivery of merchandise into business basements, according to Tracy Beach, author of the 2014 book “Tunnels Under Our Feet.”
“(Shops) would send employees through their basement, into the tunnel to grab their supplies, then they would use a dumbwaiter to bring merchandise up from storage so it wouldn’t clog up the store,” said Beach. “Later on, sneaking through to businesses like brothels came in handy, too.”
Beach spent five years researching underground tunnels in more than a dozen Colorado cities. Her first stop was Salida, which she found after a wild goose chase that involved going through a madame’s old diary and following clues to a beauty shop owner who had taken her friends — and a Ouija board — into the tunnels years before.
Beach eventually found and went into the tunnel.
“I was hooked after that,” she said.
Though there are steam systems under the CSU campus — the university was unable to share any information on them, citing safety concerns — most of Fort Collins’ tunnels are confined to Old Town.
The Old Town tunnels are owned and managed by each building’s owner, said Juszak, who has partnerships with the owners of each tunnel included in her company’s Fort Collins Ghost Tour.
Article Credits: Erin Udell, Coloradoan