Mystery of secret Gillette tunnels persists

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GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - No one’s sure when the stories started or if they’re even true.

But there are some people - old-timers and new - who swear that buried beneath Gillette Avenue’s water mains, storm sewers and utility lines is another piece of Gillette’s history: A tunnel (or tunnels) that allowed Prohibition-era imbibers and gamblers to escape a raided bar, walk beneath Gillette’s main street to the other side and continue their revelry in another establishment.

The supposed triangle of escape ran among the Goings Hotel, the Montgomery Bar and what is now the Center Bar.

Others say the stories are tall tales, fancifully woven within the context of Gillette’s Wild West past and granted credibility by the darker histories that shade both the Goings and the Montgomery.

A third camp says the tunnels may have existed - anything is possible, really - but any subterranean structure has long since filled in, caved in or been in other ways irreparably damaged and lost to the curious passers-by who may wonder what lies beneath their shoes in modern-day downtown Gillette.

Les Cundy counts himself in the third group, and he ought to know.

The upheaval of reconstructing Gillette’s oldest street of commerce isn’t new. Getting it paved in the first place was such an expensive and debt-inducing idea in 1928 that 80 percent of the affected landowners protested, and the city was forced to put the idea on hold. Gillette Avenue eventually became the city’s first paved street in 1931.

Gillette News Record stories unearthed by Rockpile Museum curator Robert Henning say that in October 1929, the city bought 3,000 feet of pipe from Sheridan Iron Works. Construction of curbs, gutters and sidewalks began that same fall. Sometime between then and July 1931, that pipe was installed beneath Gillette Avenue to carry water to every building along the street.

It’s been in use ever since.

Rock Springs contractor Woodward Construction won the bid to pave Second Street and two blocks of Gillette Avenue - less than a mile total - for $25,000 in 1931.

In the 1950s, the entire length of Gillette Avenue was reconstructed, this time with Big Horn Construction at the helm of the work, and Cundy doing the asphalt work for it.

“I’d heard that (about the tunnels), but I never found any down there. If they were there, they were filled in before I ever started working on it,” Cundy said Thursday.

In 1978, the street was reconstructed again, and the storm sewer that serves the area now was installed. Big Horn Construction and Cundy did that work, too.

Coal chutes - a way for heating coal to be delivered to building basements - still poked up out of the street then, and Cundy said he filled those chutes in … but he doesn’t remember seeing a tunnel.

“They had a lot of those along there, but we filled those all up when we did Gillette Avenue last time … that was 1978,” he said.

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