Does passage lead from Rock River to Tallman House?
Joel Van Haaften, executive director of the Rock County Historical Society, said members of the historical society still have their doubts about the existence of a tunnel between the Tallman House and the Rock River, but they'll continue to investigate.
He encouraged anyone with information about the tunnel to call the historical society at (608) 756-4509.
JANESVILLE The hunt was on Tuesday afternoon.
Rumors have swirled for years about a secret tunnel leading from the Tallman House to the nearby Rock River. Eyewitnesses say they have been inside. Others say they've seen an exit in a hidden basement.
UW Extension hydrogeologist David Hart volunteered his time and his ground penetrating radar to help find the truth.
"We have been hearing a constant stream of stories about a tunnel leading into the house," said Joel Van Haaften, executive director of the Rock County Historical Society.
The conversations started again after construction crews recently started work at the Tallman House. They were worried about parking heavy equipment on unstable ground.
Van Haaften said he had heard stories from four people who say they used the tunnel to sneak into the Tallman House years ago. He spoke to one man Tuesday who said he used the tunnel to explore the house in his youth and even managed to get onto the roof.
Mike Rogers of Janesville said he didn't go into the tunnel, but he saw where it connected to the home.
Rogers was about 6 years old when he first toured the Tallman House in 1961. During the tour, he said, visitors were shown a false door in a closet, through which he could see a basement beneath the home. When he returned years later, he could not find the fake door, and the tour guide knew nothing about it.
Mike Monk said he got an even closer look.
In the late 1960s, Monk said, he and his friends played near the sewer drains and ruins along the bank of the Rock River. One day, they made a discovery—a tunnel that led up to the Tallman House.
"We went all the way down the tunnel up to the house, or at least we thought we did," Monk said. "The end of the tunnel was blocked by new construction."
Other rumors are that the city filled the tunnel with sand to stop kids from breaking into the home or that the entrance by the river was filled with concrete. The historical society has yet to find any records to validate the claims.
Wealthy lawyer and land speculator William Morrison Tallman built the house between 1855 and 1857.
The reasons Tallman would have had a tunnel dug is unknown.
Tallman was an active member of the underground railroad when he lived in New York, Van Haaften said, but there is no proof he continued his involvement in Wisconsin.
Others have speculated that the tunnel might have simply been a drainage channel from the house to the river.
Before using the radar Tuesday, investigators examined the kitchen for evidence of a false door and basement.
Architect Kevin Donahue examined the closet and found no evidence of the basement or the door. He said there appears to be an area filled in under the home and below the closet, but there is no way to tell if it was filled when the house was built or later. The house has been renovated and modern plumbing has been installed.
The ground-penetrating radar yielded no clear answers.
The radar works like a weatherman's radar, Hart said. It sends sonic waves that bounce back from any objects.
"It's like a wave going across the surface of a pond with a rock in the middle," Hart said. "The waves will bounce back, and we will be able to see the rock."
Hart and Monk began by pulling the radar across the ground on the lawn behind the house facing the river. After two passes, they had no suspicious results and moved closer to the house. On the third pass, Hart picked up the faint sign of something buried.
It was tough to get a good reading, Hart said, because of the ground's composition. Hart made more sweeps and switched to a larger transmitter to search deeper.
"The only way to know for sure is to take a back hoe and to start digging," Hart said with a laugh.
After an afternoon of radar sweeps, Hart found what he described as "an anomaly" that he could not immediately identify. Hart will analyze the results in his lab later this week.
No matter the results, speculation about the tunnel will likely continue.
"This is about trying to find history," Donahue said.