Fagen, Fire, Tunnels, and the Salem Boys Fraternity: A History from 1869 to 1900

The Salem Fraternity was organized in February 1869 for the purpose of providing evening instruction and amusement for those who being confined to their work during the day need recreation at the close of their labors. It was incorporated in 1875. In April 1869 the Fraternity opened rooms in the Downing Block on Essex Street. The building was built in 1858 for Thomas Downing’s Dry Goods business.  The Fraternity catered to persons of all ages and both sexes who desired to use them as an amusement room a reading room and a school or work room. Incidentally a library was begun in connection with the reading room which developed into a collection of 5.000 volumes. In time women would only use the library to check out books and read them elsewhere.  For over fifteen years it was the only free library in the city. Their main goal was to provide entertainments, amusements, instruction, and education opportunities for self-improvement and means of intellectual culture, sympathy, and aid in time of trouble. In addition to physical training and education classes were devoted to many of the arts and crafts. Plus there is a  well-filled library and reading room.  It was evident from the outset that the most important duty was to reach the boys of the street at their most impressionable age.

In 1898 the Fraternity moved to the Lyceum Building on Church Street. In 1831, the Salem Lyceum Society bought land and erected the building on Church Street at a cost of approximately $4,000. The hall could accommodate 700 patrons in amphitheater-style seating and was decorated with images of Cicero, Demosthenes and other great orators of bygone days.  In 1898 the Lyceum transferred $3,000 to the Essex Institute to continue providing lectures. Bell’s debut of the telephone was sponsored by the Essex Institute within the old wooden Lyceum building. The current brick building was built in circa. 1900 after the wooden building burned down.  By Oct. 1899 the Fraternity opened up in their new location in the old Essex Bank Building. The First National Bank had occupied the building for the previous 80 years after the Essex Bank folded after a father and son embezzled funds. Did one of the boys have an accident in the old Lyceum building?

In the summer of 1900 three parties of Fraternity, boys camped out at the old Prescott homestead at Hampton Falls NH thirty miles from Salem. The same season other parties camped at Potato Island Rowley and at Hog Island/Choate Island. The success of the experiments of this and the following year when camps were made at Hog Island and again at Hampton Falls led to the establishment of the permanent camp at Sawyer’s Island Rowley in 1903 and to the purchase of the property in 1905. Sawyer’s Island is an elevation or island in the surrounding salt marsh in the northeastern part of Rowley 18 miles from Salem. The purchase included 16 acres of upland and marsh. Tidal creeks leading to Plum Island and thence to the sea suitable for bathing and boating run along the northern and southern boundaries of the island Part of the upland is covered with trees and portions are kept under cultivation. A house for the boys was built in 1905 this was enlarged in 1914 and an eight-room cottage for the Superintendent and workers was erected in 1906. In 1906 the Fraternity had merged with the Boston Boy’s Club. A 28 foot cutter and equipment is available for camp use.



Now the interesting things is, the Fraternity had sought out children from poor families and the working class. All of the buildings in which they were housed were attached to the tunnels. All of the buildings had formidable vaults.  Was the Salem equivalent of Fagen running the place. Dodge is a popular name in this area…. For Charles Bulfinnch, Architect of D.C. had built their third residence for the Essex Bank. The Essex Bank was originally in a building which stood where the old Naumkeag Trust/Eastern Bank  stood on the corner of Derby square. The original bank building on Derby square would burn down the same year as the wooden Lyceum Building.  It was also attached to several tunnels in town.  Bulfinch would connect the Essex Bank, Loobey Asylum (Essex Institute on Essex Street),  and Old Town Hall to the tunnels in town. Plus the other connection is that in the year they moved into the Lyceum Building, the Essex Institute took over the lecture series.  The Essex Institute first was in the Downing Block and then in a building built over the foundation and tunnel entrances of the Loobey Asylum. It is a stretch, but could the Fraternity been a cover for a den of iniquity? What is the connection between the wooden Lyceum Building and the Essex Bank’s original building burning down the same year?  What is the connection between the Essex Institute, the Lyceum, and the Fraternity sharing the same buildings at different times? Did they all use the tunnels? Whatever the answers are it would make great fiction though…

For more about the tunnels in Salem read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City. Also you can venture on the route of the tunnels and learn their history first hand by going on one of Salem’s best walking tours there is!  The Salem Tunnel Tour offers tours at various times throughout the week. Check them out today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.