Trap door lures folks underground in downtown Morristown

A hidden door in floor leads to a dark tunnel under stores.
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 6:06 PM EST
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MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WVLT) - Flooring renovation at the Old Town Variety Mall just got exciting for business owner Jim McGhee and others interested in what the flooring crew uncovered in downtown Morristown. They were replacing decades-old carpet with new laminate flooring at the site of the former Hamblen Inn.

“We started pulling it out,” said McGhee. “One of the guys that was pulling it up got to that. Seen the cutout of it, didn’t know what he’d found.”

A hidden square in the floor was a trap door leading to a tunnel beneath. Craft vendor Cathy Scott followed the flooring guy into the tunnel. “Until I got to the mud, then I turned around.”

The existence of a space that carried water through downtown Morristown is known among local historians. It was part of the former effort to prevent flooding, and flood control was modernized as time went by. McGhee said, “Turkey Creek ran through this tunnel that’s now empty. It’s no longer conducting water. But it was the main water source for all downtown businesses at one time.”

Was the hidden door just for water access or used for something else?

Scott said, “People have said it helped with Prohibition getting liquor in the stores and other people have said there was a mob group here, which I’ve heard that for years.”

McGhee said he had been discussing the possibility with folks, as well. “I have heard from sources that would rather not be known that at one time there may have been a still operated underneath in the tunnel.”

Although the tunnel is not used for current flood control, it is damp, with some signs of life. “That’s raccoon scat. So that tells us there are critters down here.” said McGhee as he pointed beneath a band of rusted metal that he said could have been around a large storage drum. Scattered glass soda bottles and a child’s toy gun are among remnants found in the tunnel.

Could there be signs of afterlife? ‘People just love to get scared. And I been doing the ghost tour for 10 years,’ said McGhee.

He intends to add the tunnel as an optional part of the tour when is able to resume it downtown.

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