Ellinwood Underground Tunnels

Useful Information

Location: Ellinwood. N.W. corner of Main & Santa Fe, U.S. 56 at the stoplight.
Open: All year daily. [2006]
Fee: Adults USD 4, Children (0-9) USD 2. [2006]
Classification: SubterraneaUnderground City
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: V=2,000/a.
Address: Ellinwood's Underground Tunnels, Bill Starr and James Elliott, One North Main, PO Box 306, Ellinwood, Kansas 67526-0306, Tel: +1-620-564-2400.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1871 Capt. John Ellinwood camped here.
1872 city founded.
1930s coal cellers converted into shops.
1940s first separation walls built.
1981 Adrianna Dierolf began showing the tunnels to the public.
1982 most of the tunnels filled in.
1992 sold to the Ellinwood Museum Association.


Ellinwood was named for Capt. John Ellinwood, chief civil engineer and surveyor for the AT & SF. He camped near here in the fall of 1871, half a year before the town was founded by George M. Jackson. He was the town's first merchant selling whiskey and tobacco. After the railroad reached Ellinwood in the summer of the same year, growth speeded up.

Most of the immigrants were from Germany, and they brought their own culture and architecture. The houses were heated with coal, which was delivered during summer by horse and wagon. They stored the coal in the cellar until it was used during winter. It is not clear who started this, local lure says they brought it from Munich, but someone built a ditch in front of his house and covered it by wooden planks. So it could be used as a sidewalk, and when the coal was delivered the planks were lifted and the the coal dumped in.

There are some rumours that the tunnels became a refuge during the anti-German hysteria at the time of World War I. This is possible, but not documented though. Shure is the fact, that the tunnels were used as a safe refuge when tornadoes were in the area.

The ditches became obsolete as coal storage, when in the 1930s the gas boom began. The buildings were now heated with the inexpensive natural gas, and at the same time continuing influx of population increased the need for shops and and services. The heavy limestone built basements provided space for the shops, the tunnels were used as underground sidewalks. The tunnels ran at both sides of Main Street for two blocks, connecting Jung's Barber Shop with public bath house, Wolitz Shoe Shop, John Wever's Sample Room, Petz Meat Storage, and Drummer's Sample Room, just to name a few. There is some evidence that at least one, probably even two tunnels crossed Main Street underground. This allowed the ladies to cross the street without wading through the mud, an early mall was born.

When prohibition started in Kansas, the underground shops became ideal for less legal purposes. Although not really hidden, they were at least out of sight of state officials. Since World War II, separation walls were built to block access from one building to another. The use of the tunnels ended, but they stayed almost unchanged for decades.

In 1981 Adrianna Dierolf began to show the tunnels to the public. In summer 1982 new sidewalks were built on Main Street and most of the remaining tunnels were filled with sand. They still exist, but are blocked now. Today three parts of the tunnels are still open, under the Dick Building, the Wolf Hotel, and the 1883. The part under the Dick Building is open to the public. It was sold to the Ellinwood Museum Association in 1992 who still offer guided tours.