For many years it was surmised and rumored that Wheaton College's Blanchard Hall had been a stop of the Underground Railroad. That has now been confirmed (see Underground Railroad). However, for years folks talked of the slave tunnels under Blanchard Hall. These were pointed to as "evidence" that the building was a stop for fugitives as they bolstered the image of secrecy of the abolitionist work. However, it was clear from Blanchard family members that the work of the Underground Railroad was an "above ground" work in Wheaton. Again, this is confirmed in recent discoveries.
So, what does this say about the tunnels that were found to exist? What was their purpose? The purpose of the tunnels was confirmed by Mr. M. Frank Miller in a 2009 email.
Wheaton College utilizes a central heating system, which means that all of the heat in various buildings comes from one source. For many years that source was the Steam Plant that is adjacent to Shell Hall and next to Wyngarden Health Center. Now that function is served by the building behind the Billy Graham Center. The pipes that carried heat run underground to campus buildings. This centralized system has been in use for nearly a century. In the summer of 1928 Miller and Joe Weaver were hired to enlarge the area around the pipes serving Blanchard Hall so that the pipes could be insulated and easily checked for leaks. The trenches were enlarged to four-feet by four-feet. Weaver and Miller worked six hours a day and spent a month digging through the "hard Illinois clay."
Marion Frank Miller became Freshman in Wheaton Academy in the Fall of 1928. In summer months of '28, my father determined that the steam main under the main part of Blanchard Hall needed to be recovered with asbestos & checked for leaks because it now served to heat the East Wing completed in 1927. Dad hired Joe Weaver Jr. (son of the College Treasurer) and me to enlarge the trench of the steam main.
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