What Happened Next: Germantown’s underground chamber

NewsWorks went back to check in on several of the stories it covered in 2012. These “What Happened Next” updates will run throughout December

An investigative journey to the center of the Germantown earth, May 22 

The story: In late March of last year, Julie Carroll of Walnut Lane in Germantown, fell into a hole in her backyard. The hole, covered by pachysandra, was disguising a mysterious underground chamber.

With the aid of her fellow board members at the Germantown Historical Society, Carroll was able to get a glimpse of the room using a camera attached to a stick.

Carroll and some of her neighbors decided to investigate further by venturing into the hole. One Saturday in late May I arrived at Carroll’s home eager to find what lay beneath her garden. I found myself climbing down a ladder into the dark earth. 

The room was ten feet high and eight feet in diameter. We noticed two pipes leading into the hole, used perhaps for drainage. The walls were individual Wissahickon Shist stones laid on top of one another. Slate slabs in a crisscross pattern served as a roof over our heads.

We noticed that one of the slabs lay partially buried underneath the mound of dirt, which had given way under Julie’s foot. It was at this point I decided I would make my way back up the ladder and away from the possibility of being crushed by the remaining slabs.

After venturing into the hole, and much discussion speculating it’s possible functions, the roof was deemed unsafe. It was decided that the most effective way of making the area safe was to fill in the hole with sand.

What Happened next? It has now been six months since we ventured into the hole and “its almost exactly as we left it”, says Carroll. “My love of history made me not want to take such a drastic move of just filling the hole.” So, the underground room remains as she found it.

Jim Duffin, an archivist at Penn and a longtime resident of Germantown, helped Carroll research the old Wyck property her house sits on. After pouring over old atlases, the two were still unable to determine the hole’s history. Nevertheless, Carroll has not given up hope that its purpose will be revealed.

There are still options for further exploration into the hole’s purpose Carroll points out. “We never cleaned out the gutters that lead into the hole to see where they lead.”

For now, the hole remains a topic of conversation at parties and a possible punishment for their children, Carroll joked. She continues to hope that “someone in the community has a great solution that isn’t terribly costly and retains the history safely.”

If you have any stories from 2012 that you’d like NewsWorks to follow up on, let us know at nwproducers@whyy.org

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