Hotter than Hell: the Steam Tunnels

Posted on June 23, 2024

Do you know how the characters always walk right into traps in horror movies? Everyone in the audience is screaming at them not to go into that or this room, but for some reason, they always do. People who visit the Steam Tunnels in Williamsburg, Virginia, are in the same boat. It’s exactly what it sounds like – the city has some underground tunnels that horror fans like to visit. These tunnels are part of a network used to transport war supplies during the Civil War –– so you can imagine the energies that roam those dark passages…


Beyond the Tunnels


Believe it or not, the Steam Tunnels are not the only haunted spot in Williamsburg. In 1699, way before the USA was established, the state’s capital was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg, putting the place on the map. Those early settlers thought they would enjoy better land in their new capital, and while they may have gotten that right, they did not foresee all the other problems they would breed.

Why does Williamsburg have such a haunted legacy?

The area has seen it all: witch trials in the 17th century; the capital was built on top of Indian burial grounds; the Revolutionary War and later the Civil War tore the town apart, making it an ideal tourist attraction.

The College of William & Mary, for example, was affected by the Civil War and used as a field hospital. An unsensible number of people died and many stayed behind at the College. One of the most haunted spots is a crypt located underneath the school’s chapel. Some of the fraternities are rumored to use the human remains as part of their hazing rituals, which we can only imagine angers the ghosts even more.


Underground horrors


Back in 1781, General Cornwallis came to Williamsburg to fight for the British army as he was set on suppressing American independence. As part of his strategy, he devised a system of tunnels that could be used to transport goods and supplies. His army camped in Williamsburg for 10 days on their way to the neighboring port of Yorktown, from which they would be able to access the major waterways and regroup. Little did he know that his tunnels would be part of his legacy in ways he could not foresee. After his troops left Williamsburg, the tunnels remained and were mostly abandoned until they were rediscovered and repurposed hundreds of years later.

At some point in the 20th century, the College of William & Mary began utilizing the Steam Tunnels. The campus expanded them as part of its heating system and opened a Pandora’s Box in the process. The tunnels became easily accessible, and students soon started dropping by. They would enter the tunnels from many of the school buildings or the nearby Sunken Gardens, and it wasn’t just them: homeless people also became regulars.

But by far and wide, the Steam Tunnels have been primarily used by undergrads looking for trouble. In fact, fraternities at the College of William & Mary are known for using the tunnels as part of their hazing rituals, which often culminated in entering the Wren Crypt, an eerie chamber filled with skulls and other treasures. And as scary as it might be, that hasn’t kept students from raiding the place and stealing from it a few times, which we can only assume aggravates the dead.

Today, people who visit the tunnels claim to see all kinds of unearthly beings. The ghosts of a long legacy haunt the tunnels: nobody really knows who or what is down there, but it is not unusual to hear mysterious footsteps, voices, or even laughter. It is also not unusual to feel as if someone is touching them or breathing on them, all of which only adds to the mystery.

What entities are down there, exactly? So much has happened that it’s impossible to say. One thing is certain: if you venture inside, be prepared to have some close encounters.


The Queen Bee of Haunted Buildings


The tunnels are just the tip of the iceberg. The Wren Building, which is connected to the Steam Tunnels, is also haunted. The Wren Building is the queen bee of haunted buildings on campus. It has been the victim of multiple fires throughout the years, not to mention serving as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Revolutionary and, later, the Civil War.

As you can imagine, many of the troops brought in didn’t make it out alive, and rumor has it that many of them are still there today. Today, late-night visitors report hearing footsteps only to turn around and find nothing there. To make things even spookier, there is a crypt inside the building housing some of the most prominent figures in Virginia history. The crypt has attracted looters multiple times, and we can’t imagine all those dead bodies are happy with their tombs being sacked.


Haunted Williamsburg


It’s easy to see why underground tunnels that were used during wartime are just sure to be haunted. That’s the story of the Steam Tunnels: visitors report hearing sinister laughter, fleeting footsteps, and heart-stopping screams.

Keep reading our blog to learn more about Williamsburg’s most haunted locations. And to experience them in person, book a Williamsburg ghost tour with Colonial Ghosts!