From the pages of the Southeast Missouri Post
By Carlton Hurldon
Monday, October 22, 2007
The city of Briar Hills is a compact metropolis and an urban oasis amid hundreds of miles of rural farmland in southeast Missouri. Located on the banks of the Mississippi river, it is home to Briar Hills University and a very mysterious history.
Officially founded as a city in 1769, it is believed to have been settled much earlier, with some historians suggesting that the city might be among the oldest modern settlements west of the Mississippi River. But the city’s real origin might be even older than imagined. Archeological findings have revealed the presence of an unknown Native American village that occupied the area sometime before the arrival of these modern settlers. It remains unclear what became of these original residents, but it is generally accepted that they were either killed off by the invading European settlers or, more likely, by a rival tribe some time before their arrival.
Even in modern times, the history of Briar Hills has remained mostly murky. Surviving records predating the 1880s are rare and remarkably vague even when they are found. Little is known about the early years of the city and its government. Even several of the city’s prominent structures have mysterious origins. For example, although it is well known that the elaborate building currently housing the Heritage Museum used to be the courthouse before the construction of the new one in 1919, there are no records revealing what it might have been before it was the courthouse. The game warden’s office and the First Baptist Church have similar forgotten origins, though their beautiful architecture defied the rustic setting of the early city, and historians are unsure why such buildings would ever have been built here. Most peculiar of all, however, is the city’s complex subterranean underworld. Miles of tunnels exist beneath the streets and buildings of the city, a great many of which with no discernable purpose.
In recent decades, the tunnels have been augmented with modern sewers, but these remain entangled with a confusing labyrinth of passageways that have become the basis for countless superstitious and supernatural rumors. Everything from witchcraft to government conspiracies have been cited as the motives for the creation of the tunnels, which are said to intertwine with a vast natural cavern system, but no evidence exists to support any such claims. However, a surprising number of the city’s residents insist that the tunnels are haunted.
City officials deny the existence of any supernatural activity and warn curious residents not to enter the tunnels. “Those tunnels are city property and trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” warns David Dodd, Briar Hills’ chief of police. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt down there.” Most of the tunnel system’s entry points are gated off for public safety, but determined explorers have been known to find their way in, creating public hazard concerns for Dodd and the city police.
The original purpose of Briar Hills’ subterranean mystery may never be revealed, but there will definitely be no shortage of theories by those who call this city home. And who can blame them for letting their imaginations get away from them? One can only wonder what secrets might be hidden down there somewhere.