Ask the Archivist

Scott Sanders

To read Scott Sanders’ column in The Antiochian, Songs from the Stacks, click here.

Previous Submissions:
Volume 67, Issue 6:

QWhat’s the story behind the steam tunnels? are there other secret passages or rooms on campus? Caves?

A: Once upon a time, heating the Antioch College campus was performed by a single entity called the Power Plant. Completed in 1930, the power plant was initially conceived as a way to heat the massive, brand new Science Building without devoting any of its vast but precious interior space to a boiler or a furnace. To achieve this, the designers first had to figure out the best method for generating heat, which at that time was steam. The answer to the question “How best to generate steam?” was “generate electricity first” and use the byproduct to heat the building. In discovering how much electricity needed to be produced to generate the required amount of steam, it was realized that the College could make enough of both to light and heat all of its buildings from a single source. So when the Power Plant was built (and it can still be seen across Corry Street in Glen Helen), tunnels were constructed under Front Campus that ran to Main Building, North Hall, South Hall, Science, Curl Gymnasium (since renamed Wellness) and Horace Mann Library, which today we call Weston. Just about every new building the College has built since was added to the network of tunnels. What that meant for recent history is that once the College was closed in 2008 and its campus shuttered, there was no way to heat anything after the Power Plant went offline. When Antioch University realized it couldn’t close Olive Kettering Library and stay in OhioLink, it had to put a furnace in a building where none had been needed before, and every building reopened since the reopening of the College has first needed to have its own heating system installed before it could be occupied. Since the Power Plant isn’t likely to be brought back online again, the remaining steam tunnels are one of the vestigial remains of an Antioch that no longer exists (there are, by the way, many, many Antiochs that no longer exist). The tunnels are also full of asbestos, so be advised. A deliberately secret room on campus that come to mind is in Sontag Fels, once home to the Longitudinal Study of Human Development established by Arthur Morgan of Antioch College and Samuel Fels of Philadelphia, who made a fortune in the soap business. Fels and Morgan had common interests in the human condition and created the study in an attempt to comprehensively understand every aspect of human growth from birth to death. On the main floor of Fels is a large glassed in space designed as a playroom for the study’s subjects, who at that time were practically all children. The space included a tiny closet that a scientist could enter from outside the room to surreptitiously observe the children’s behavior, from which data on their development could be gained. When the College came back under the auspices of its alumni in 2009, an architect from the class of 1970, John Feinberg, directed a comprehensive examination of the campus and its physical plant with an eye toward preservation of its bountiful historic assets. That study unearthed a large brick lined cistern, or underground reservoir, near Main Building. The most notable cave on campus is known as the Antioch Bone Cave, and is said to have been discovered in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is also said to have been intentionally covered up during the second half of the twentieth century. The following description appeared in “History of Greene County” by RS Dills, published in 1881: Mr. Jesse Taylor gives the following account of the finding of a bone cave by hint, on the 19th of October, 1878:

The cave is on the Neff farm, about half a mile from the village of Yellow Springs, and one-fourth of a mile from the Neff House; also, about two hundred yards from the large spring known as Yellow Spring. The entrance is about four feet high and three feet wide, and faces the south. A person can crawl into the cave for about eight feet very easily, but at this point it becomes narrow, and is only about one and one-half feet in width. After passing this narrow place, it becomes larger, and at the end is about five feet in width. It extends into the rock about fourteen feet. I found the cave in the morning, and the first bone that I noticed was a piece of a human skull. I also found on this same morning, two humour and one femur, which I supposed to be those of a small child. In the afternoon I took a basket and a lantern and went back to explore the cave, and found another femur and one tibia, which I also supposed to be those of a small child. I found three lower jaws, afterwards recognized to be those of the opossum by their having an inward process at the angle of the jaw; two skulls since found to be those of the mink, and one-half of a lower jaw or left ramus, since determined as that of a porcupine; also one sharp implement or awl, about six inches long, and made of bone. On October 21, Denman Duncan and I took a lantern and trowel and went to the cave. We removed the stones from the entrance, and afterwards took out a large quantity of earth, in which we found the lower jaw, one tibia, two fibulae, and two teeth of a small child. We also found on this same day another implement of bone, similar to that above described; one polished stone hatchet or Celt; one flat implement made of bone; also five bits of bone which had been cut round and then broken off.