City construction workers uncover mysterious manhole

Published 11:15 pm Friday, August 20, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Construction workers found something they didn't expect to find while digging to connect two manholes for the city streetscape project on Thursday - a manhole buried beneath eight inches of pavement.
Stranger still about the mystery manhole is what lies beneath it; an enclosed space that can best be described as a "vault" with no discernible purpose.
The manhole wasn't found during the last major construction project on Main street in 1981 either, Coulston said.
The manhole cover didn't reveal any clues either.
Unlike most manhole covers that say "sewer," the cover to the vault manhole had no date or other markings, according to Coulston.
The vault, located at the intersection of Fourth and Main streets, measures approximately 10 feet wide, 30 feet long, and 10 feet deep.
The vault has finished walls and an arched ceiling that appear to be brick covered with mortar, as well as a cobblestone floor, said Joe Ray, Public Works assistant director.
The vault also has another manhole, which is also covered, about 20 feet west of the one that was discovered, according to Ray.
The discovery of the vault will delay the streetscape project at least a day, if not more, Coulston said.
The construction crew now needs to tear up the street over the vault, take off the ceiling, and fill in the vault with sand. After that, the crew will then lay the pipe connecting two manholes, one on each side of Main Street, Coulston said.
This isn't the first surprise construction crews have come across during the project. These "unknowns," as Coulston described them, have been found by crews almost every day.
Most of the unknowns found so far have been buried clay pipes, which haven't served a purpose in a long time.
As for the purpose of the vault, there are a couple of theories. The one that seems most likely is that the vault was a cistern used to hold water to be used by the fire department in case of a fire.
A cistern was found in Bangor, Mich. under similar circumstances during a construction project there.
Another theory, although deemed unlikely, is that the vault was used as part of the underground railroad, which helped slaves escape from the South during times of slavery.