Dutch Reformed Church and the tunnel under the Passaic River

The Dutch Reformed Church in Belleville was first built in 1697. It has been rebuilt three time, in 1725, 1807 and again in 1853. 63 Revolutionary War veterans as well as Henry Rutgers (for whom Rutgers University is named) are buried in the church cemetery. The church is a historic building, but it’s probably more well known for a tunnel that may or may not link the church to buildings on the other side of the river in Lyndhurst.

The tunnels are a true urban legend. Several people have claimed to have been in them, but no one can provide proof. Supposedly the tunnels go underneath the Passaic River and bring you into a building somewhere on the other side. If they exist, these tunnels go back to the Revolutionary War and were used by American soldiers to sneak across the river to scout and attack enemy forces. It is believed that George Washington actually worshiped here at one time during the war, but that does not prove that tunnels exist.

aerialshot

totalchurchshot

Here’s a collection of photos of the church.

Weird NJ article about the church and tunnel

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kevin A. on December 28, 2015 at 4:24 AM

    I lived in Belleville for 21 years and attended The Dutch Reformed Church every Sunday and my brothers and I played all over that area. I have been down in the basement many times and there was a second door down there that I was told led to a tunnel under the river. The pastor at the time told me it was sealed off because it had collapsed from the weight of the highway. It was an interesting story so I would go back there once in awhile when the church was closed look around to see what I could find. I never located a tunnel but I did find steps that are located under the steps leading to the middle door which look solid looking straight at them but look at them from the side and you will find there is a hollow space and that is where you will find them. They are to low to have previously been used for the church and lead straight to the Passaic River. I did not find anything else of interest around the church other then the names in the tombstones which match many streets in the valley.

    If you would like to see a graveyard that has tombstones older then the ones behind The Dutch Reformed Church walk down Main St till you reach the next street Belleville Ave you will see an office building on the corner and a small parking lot walk through the parking lot. Walk through the lot just past the back side of the building on your left hand side. There was a wooden fence there when I was a kid it is just on the other side of that fence.

    Reply

    • Posted by Glen Pierce on December 28, 2015 at 7:18 PM

      I wish that I had photographed a tombstone in 1982. It was for John Pearce who died 1735 in a Belleville NJ mining accident. I suspect that he is in my tree. Says he came from Cornwall England. Many people in the Belleville Cem have grandchildren buried at the Fairfield Dutch Reformed Church in NJ.

      Facing the front, it was to the right, then not too far in. I bet the tombstone was broken by the time of the big cleanup around 2003.

      Reply

    • Posted by Troy S. on February 25, 2016 at 5:30 AM

      I did a little research and found that the tiny cemetery behind the office building at 135 Main Street and Belleville Avenue belongs to the Wesley M.E. Church, 225 Washington Avenue. According to the property tax records it’s 0.75 acres in size. I had been by it countless times but never realized it was there.

      Here is the link for the tax record:

      http://tax1.co.monmouth.nj.us/cgi-bin/m4.cgi?district=0701&l02=070109404____00007_________M

      Reply

  2. Posted by Gail Bossett Ziemski on July 10, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    I grew up going to that church my Aunt Betty and Uncle Charlie were Sunday SchoolmTeachers for 60 years. My uncle is 102 alive and well.

    Reply

  3. The Second River is a stone-lined river in Belleville. It is not unthinkable that the Passaic River also may have a stone lining under that bog of a bottom it has. A tunnel is a possibility for the pre-Revolutionary War period. If the tunnel went deep enough, the foundation for the NJ Rte 21 overpass may have avoided it.
    If someone can check the NJ DOT plans for the original Rte 21, the tunnel may be noted there. The elevated structure was built in the early 1950’s due to the flooding along Main St. By that time, the main street of town had become Washington Ave.
    Also the bascule bridge was rehabilitated by NJ DOT is the past decade or two. The environmental impact study for those repairs should also be reviewed to see if a tunnel is noted.

    Reply

  4. this church will always be known as Dutch Reform church I grew up in THAT CHURCH and it is as beautiful today as it was 40 years ago

    Reply

  5. Posted by ssp on July 24, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    When I was a youngster round 12 yrs old for a school project my mom suggested doing a report on the dutch exploration/settlement in NJ.
    She was deeply involved in our church and knew people who were of this church. She set up a date and we went down there and toured the great church cemetery with the pastor. then he brought us down to the basement and into a tunnel. More like a catacomb one section was filled with skulls of Chinese immigrants if I recall were awaiting return for burial their homeland. For being a kid I was blown away. It was an eerie sight and I even touched one of them .
    We moved on and further into the tunnel was a sealed off passage way which led in the direction of the river.
    The pastor told how the tunnel was very old and at one time had been used as part of the underground railroad escape system in the civil war.
    So for proof there ya go I have been in the tunnels My Mom, still alive, can confirm this as well.
    Now being that so much time and nearby construction has occurred I would not be surprised if parts of it have collapsed in.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mike martin on December 13, 2012 at 10:50 PM

      I also was in the basement as a child. I too found bones. The bones had something to do with a plant that had an explosion I think in north Arlington. We searched for a tunnel but could,t find anything. I am sure with route 21 anything would have collapsed. Mike Martin queen of peace

      Reply

      • Posted by Andy on March 21, 2013 at 10:29 AM

        Hi – I came across this thread, and I am interested in the reference to the bones of Chinese immigrants in the Church’s catacombs. I am a historian at Rutgers doing research on James B. Hervey’s (sometimes spelled “Harvey”) Passaic Steam Laundry Plant in Belleville, which employed roughly 300 Chinese immigrants in the 1870s. These workers were contracted from labor brokers in California. A Sunday School was set up at the Dutch Reformed Church. I’ve come across references to Chinese laborers who died while employed at the Plant, but I have not found any specific mention of whether they were buried, or whether their remains were sent back to China. Does anyone know of a contact at the Church who might help fill in some of these blanks or confirm the existence of the catacombs? Thanks. Andy Urban (aturban@rci.rutgers.edu)

        Reply

        • Posted by L on April 21, 2013 at 1:01 PM

          The church has been sold to a new pastor- I was part of the church over 20 years ago and can definitely say that there are bodies buried in the basement. We were always told that they were bodies of the Chinese immigrants who died in the warehouse fire. Whether that is true or not remains to be said- there is a rec room in the basement that is accessible through a stairwell near the kitchen in the back of the church. Through the rec room was a passage way that was connected to a large stone room-

          Not sure who the new pastor is- I saw that the church had been purchased during a News 12 segment- before that it had remained empty for quite some time.

          Reply

  6. Posted by "B" on May 6, 2011 at 8:56 PM

    I grew up in Belleville I was always uncomfortable to be near this old church building: the old old section of town and the church building is right at the passaic river where bodies turned up drowned. The old cemetery behind the church was never very pretty till now!. B U T I got older now 54 yrs old I learned what history is and fell in love with history. So I discoverd the church and studied it its got a fascinating history!! BUT forget forget any tunnel under the Passiac river: I consider it impossible! Any tunnel under any river like the ‘tubes” of the Hudson river are an engineering accomplishment that is too costly and time consuming for a church to be invloved in. NOW there was a very successful copper mine and factory in Belleville. If any tunnel existed under the church building I would believe it was incorporated with a vein from the copper mine. ONE use of this tunnel would have been to sneak slaves in the “underground” railroad. So please just admire the old church: its made of stone and brick it was used by the patriot army during the revolutionary war. Patriot soldiers used the church as fort to fire back at British soldiers who had caught up with the patriot soldiers during their retreat to pennsylvania! The revolutionary war walked right passed the church! A major revolutionary war battle was fought IN Belleville. I believe this old church is more historic than old North church of Boston!! The church was almost lost to history until the pentacostal congregation bought it and rescued it!

    Reply

  7. Posted by Jaritza on February 11, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    This church was reformed now is a Pentecostal Church the name is La Senda Antigua. Im member for that church. If you can aported something we apreached that. Thank you and God bless you

    Reply

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