The Tunnel

(If you like this post you can follow me on twitter @markjamesdos or check out my gallery here. My newest article is The Foundry about the Dussault Foundry in Lockport, NY.)

Beneath the streets of Buffalo’s East Side there is a buried waterway that stretches for miles unseen. Back in the 1920s the city decided that the section of the Scajaquada creek that was next to residential properties needed to be covered up and replaced with scenic asphalt. Regardless of the rather strange city planning habits of Buffalo it did create a unique urban exploration opportunity.

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Urbex Here

This storm drain/sewer begins in Forest Lawn Cemetery and runs for three miles underground before opening up again around St. Villa Maria College. This is just the main tunnel and doesn’t include the numerous branches and sewer tunnels which run off perpendicularly through the area.

You can go North or East >

I’ve mentioned before how bad an idea it is to go in these storm drains when there’s a chance it’ll rain. For our two trips into the tunnel we waited until the middle of the summer, and made sure it was a week where it hadn’t rained and there was no forecast for it. This would mean the water levels inside the tunnel were at their lowest and we wouldn’t have any surprises flushing us out.

We had to dress a little differently than we usually do for this trip and bring different supplies. Since we were walking the entire three miles and back, we brought a lot of water. The tunnel got very warm and humid in sections and, even though we drank plenty, I still came out feeling dehydrated. We also had to wear those big rubber wading boots because even the shallowest sections of the tunnel were about four to six inches deep with some being up to our knees.

Speaking of the side tunnels on our first trip we decided to follow one and see where it went. It took us a few minutes to get to a section where a very loud waterfall and a hole in the tunnel prevented us from continuing. My friend decided he wanted to jump over the hole and continue down a ways and encouraged me to do the same. Since I was carrying an additional fifty pounds of cameras, water, and other important must-have urban exploration stuff, I declined. I also didn’t like the idea of falling down into the waterfall and drowning in a hole.


Now, if you’ve ever seen the movie “Altered States” you might be familiar with the concept of a sensory deprivation chamber. The idea is that when you provide the brain with no external stimuli it creates it own (i.e. hallucinates) and you experience some rather strange things. Well even though we had flashlights down here it was still extremely dark. At one point, for some reason or another, my friend’s light went out for a bit and while he was fixing it (or breaking it further) he was looking around and saw a giant shadow dog running down the tunnel at him. With the hounds of hell bearing down on us, the quickly restored flashlight showed, of course, that nothing was there. Myself, I occasionally heard voices (whispers really) in the dull roar of side tunnel drains and could always ‘see’ movement in the dark sections ahead or to the side.  Creepy stuff.

It might not look that dark but that’s because this was a ten second exposure with the aperture wide open. Also photoshop.

One thing we unexpectedly found down there was wildlife. In some of the sections closer to the Villa Maria end, which was generally deeper, there were albino fish. Also down there were similarly colored crayfish. None of these animals were particularly interesting beyond that and there were relatively few of them but this was the first time in our urban exploring we found something alive and thriving.

The dreaded sewer piranha.

We noticed these numbers were at regular intervals down the tunnel. No idea what they were for. Also we found a historical sign from a town about ten miles down the creek, so if any town workers were wondering where that went, try there.

The last bit I wanted to mention was the number of disgusting smelling things that were flowing down into the storm drain. There were lots of very strong chlorinated smelling streams of water coming down but also other chemicals I couldn’t identify. It was also pretty clear that when the sewers overflow or the storm drain fills, sewage gets dragged downstream. This is kind of a concern since the drain, and hence the creek, feeds into Forest Lawn and Delaware Park for which the latter is known for not smelling particularly good. So in addition to the garbage in Hoyt lake there is likely also industrial waste and other bad things. I wouldn’t swim in it.

That’s not money trickling down there.

In a future post I’ll be mentioning two other places we’ve visited which are on the list of Western New York’s Most Toxic. This is where I’ll introduce and discuss the don’t-fucking-touch-that rule.  More of a guideline really.

You can follow me on twitter @markjamesdos or check out my gallery here.

This entry was published on August 13, 2012 at 12:12 am. It’s filed under Behind the Concrete Curtain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

40 thoughts on “The Tunnel

  1. Great story, By the way, This water does not flow into Delaware Park Lake. It was routed around the lake in the 80’s. You can see the berm where the pipe is going along the south edge of the lake. It dumps back into the creek at the west end of the park


    • Ah, I’ll make a note of that in the article. Thanks for pointing it out!


      • Daniel Sack on said:

        Except when there is a heavy rain and/or when stuff clogs the grates. Then everything that comes down the creek flows over the berm into the lake.


      • The berm just wast of Delaware Avenue that extends to the trash rack has a top elevation that is equal to the ordinary High Water of the creek. It is a safety measure so when exceptional high flows result from heavy rain the creek tops the berm and flows into the lake. The top elevation of the curved dam in Mirror Lake is at that elevation too.
        Fllod waters are supposed to flow over both and reduce erosion at the rack and Mirror Lake.
        A problems is always the flood watera are packed with trash that lodges in the lake.
        Those numbers on the wall could be a result of the ECDOH testing during the 1980’s. Inflows were tested for pollution levels and one by one the worse ones eliminated.


    • it still overflows into the lake, it only take a sustained rain to jump the hoyt lake bike path and overflow, live in the neighborhood and watch it do this on the reg the overflow is located at the south east end of the lake


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  3. Amazing!,


  4. Great pics and article. Is there a ‘map’ of where these tunnels are? When I lived near Genesee/Bailey as a kid my father said a covered creek was at our property line and I wonder if that is true.


  5. The historic marker for the George Urban mansion would not be from a town 10 miles away, as the mansion was located at 280 Pine Ridge Road on the Buffalo/Cheektowaga border. I grew up in the neighborhood, and saw the sign there. I worked at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical while attending Niagara University, and there is a wealth of info there. To learn more, Google “George Urban Mansion.”


    • You are correct, according to google maps it would’ve been about a six mile journey. I guess I was feeling hyperbolic.


      • Robert Biniszkiewicz on said:

        re: Urban Mansion:
        you’re entering the wrong info on google maps if it says he lived 6 miles away. The Urban mansion is literally two doors down from Villa Maria College. You can see it from the parking lot of the auditorium. It’s not six miles to the entrance of the underground from the mansion, but about 1/10 mile. The street named after him begins at Genesee Street, west of Harlem Road (not even a mile from the mansion), and extends east (with a jog at Union) to Transit Rd.
        Lived near Villa as a kid. Always was tempted to explore this. Thanks for the pics.
        That purple stream of water pouring in is very interesting for several reasons. Obviously it’s a small pipe, clearly deriving from one particular business and process. I’ll bet it’s illegal, but not monitored. It was legal at one time to drain your industrial waste anywhere you wanted. But that day is long gone. There are no grandfather clauses for polluting. Whether it’s a private enterprise or the city itself which is polluting the water, mapping that particular drain pipe would be very useful. Wherever it corresponds to on the surface, the source will almost certainly be in plain view nearby.


  6. impressive journey !!!


  7. Steven. Lorenzo on said:

    How many rats did u encounter that’s a deal breaker for me as an explorer


  8. Pingback: Concrete Aperture explores The Tunnel | Buffalo Rising

  9. qwerty on said:

    A few miles upstream the same creek goes into a tunnel and passes under the Walden Galleria. Any thoughts of walking those tunnels?


  10. I’m fascinated by your journey and appreciate you sharing your findings with us! This has been a subject of great wonder for me since I was a child.


  11. Robert on said:

    Scajaquada Creek is an interesting body of water. Its headwaters originate from the ground as it is a “spring creek” literally fed from springs. In the case of the mighty Scajaquada, the springs are in the town of Lancaster upstream a good 12 miles or so. Here’s another link which sheds some light on the stream:


  12. Pingback: The Scjacuada Creek and Expressway | The Buffalo Exchange

  13. Scajaquada mack on said:

    Thank you for making the excursion, recording the findings and sharing them.


  14. Scajaquada mack on said:

    There’s a panel discussion on Weds. March 19th at the History Museum about efforts to clean up the Creek and improve the roadway.


  15. Bonnie on said:

    These photos are awsome!I would love to see more of them.keep exploring. and posting and I will keep following.


  16. dugganhaas on said:

    The USGS has historic topographic maps of everywhere in the country (I think) now available free on their website. That can help you figure out where streams (and other things) used to be. It’s pretty cool.


  17. I’ve been in that tunnel, from the cemetery end. The east end is welded with rebar, not accessable. And yes, it runs undrr Galleria Mall, off Galleria Dr., then comes out east of the mall, and continued east, crossing Union Rd, and beyond.

    I love the pics on this page and will have to follow the other links when I havr more time.
    Thank you gor taking me/us on your journey.


  18. Charleen (Walkowski) Turner on said:

    – What a spectacular article and photographs. Thank you. I grew up in the area (in the ’50s and ’60s) and remember, as kids, going to Town Park. There was this huge drainage pipe (a child could easily stand within it) near Harlem Rd. but within Town Park that, which every so often during the day, a loud rumbling sound of approaching rushing water could be heard and these gates would open and disgusting sewage would burst out and flow into the creek. The water created these stairs that led down to the creek and we referred to them as “Death Stairs”. The kids would dare each other to climb deep within the tunnel and see how long you could remain there during the rumbling sound before the gross water (quite foamy) would shoot out. It was obviously untreated sewage How one survives childhood is amazing. I was wondering if you knew about this and where/what the sewage came.


  19. Wow that tunnel is great for photography. I’ve been wanting to find it so I can go and take some pictures there!


  20. glynis37 on said:

    Looked up the historic marker, it was replaced in 1983, so the one you saw has probably been down there along time. Might it have been bronze, instead of usual painted cast iron seen nowadays?


  21. brian3203 on said:

    yes that underground tunnel is full of polychlornated biophenos would not explore it with out a chemical suit on.


  22. brian3203 on said:

    However it is fun to look at the pictures posted on this site, I am glad somebody had the gumption to explore it.


  23. Raymond Kot on said:

    Did anyone consider whether deadly sewer gas was present in large enough quantifies to cause one to fall ill during your exploration walk? I wouldn’t walk down in that tunnel without a portable oxygen tank and mask, just in case one begins to feel dizzy or lightheaded.


  24. klondikedan on said:

    In 1985 I canoed through the tunnel from Cheektowaga to Forest Lawn Cemetery. We set up a tiki torch in the center of the canoe, we had a couple flash lights and a rope in case we had to negotiate a water fall. We expected it to take a half hour to complete the trip but it actually took two and a half hours. The creek is only canoe-able 1 or 2 days out of the year. There must be heavy rain or snow melt to make the water high enough all the way through. I would not recommend walking through it ever because we did see an open manhole in the floor below the water.


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