Welcome to the Salem Tunnel Report. Every Monday we will post new and old tunnel finds along with those who built them. In our posts you will learn how Salem has shaped American history from the profits of the smuggling that happened in these tunnels; sometimes for the good, but more often not.
173-175 -177 Essex Street
Built in 1858 for dry good merchants Thomas W. Downing and John Downing on the site of Essex Place. In 1803 the Salem Bank and the Salem Marine Insurance Company resided on the first floor of Essex Place. Its presidents included Benjamin Pickman Jr. and Joseph Peabody. In 1804 the Salem East India Marine Society Museum resided at Essex Place. The Essex Historical Society which is now part of the Peabody Essex Museum was above the Salem Bank in that building.
In 1818 the Institute for Savings in the Town of Salem and Vicinity occupied the building. This was founded by Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke. In 1830 there was an attempt to break into the their vault. Dr. Edward A. Holyoke, Benjamin Pickman Jr. , Timothy Pickering, Benjamin W. Crowninshield, Daniel A. White, and Nathaniel Silsbee were members. In 1843 the bank changed its name to the Salem Savings Bank. In 1844 the Salem Savings Bank will move into Kimball Block on the corner of Derby Square which burns down in 1899. In 1900 W.E. Hoyt Company builds the current building on the corner of Derby Square and the Salem Bank will be in it also in 1909. The Essex County Natural History Museum was housed in Essex Place when it merged with the Essex Historical Society to become the Essex Institute in 1848. Essex Institute would be the basis for the Miskatonic University in H.P. Lovecraft’s narratives.
In 1869 the Salem Fraternity which is the oldest boy’s club in the country was founded within the Downing Block. It was created to provide evening instruction and wholesome amusement for those “who were confined to their work during the day who needed recreation at the end of their labors”. Physical training, general education, and arts and crafts were offered. They had a library, a reading room, and amusement room. These services were provided to boys and girls for free.
Then they move into the Lyceum on Church Street. That wooden building suffered a fire. Then in 1899 the Salem Fraternity buys the Joshua Phippen’s Essex Bank Building on Central Street. After being housed there they merge with other national clubs to become the Boys & Girls Club. This time the children were not able to burn the building down. All three of their locations were attached to the tunnels in town. It makes you wonder if Fagin ran the boys cub… Their current Salem location is in the hall next to the Immaculate Conception Church, another brick building…
This Downing Block has a curious set of tunnels. Under the entrance that leads to the stairs to the 2nd and 3rd floors is a long hall way in the building. On the back of the building in this basement hall is an iron door covered in thick glass. At this point the long sliding latch is rusted shut. I was able to pull the doors hinges free from the wall, but the concrete wall behind it is well mortared. From this point to the front are several arches on the left and right. In one arch you can look through a hole and look into the basement under Turtle Alley. Before you get to the stairs there are a pair of metal doors. These open into rooms on either side of the hallway. Two shoots can be seen entering them from the ceiling. Behind the stairs is the original neon sign for Bernard’s Jewelers. Past the stairs there are arches with old furnace doors in them. Then right before the Essex Street entrance to the tunnel there are a pair of arches with doors in them. The one to the left has a mail slot in the bottom of it. On the other side of this door is a metal bracing composed of a series of “x”s. In this room the tunnel entrance extends 5 feet into the basement.
In the other arch opposite of this is another door that leads to the basement under Witch T’s. This storefront was once home to the Goddess Treasure Chest. The Goddess Treasure Chest used to resides in the old Daniel Low warehouse which has a tunnel leading to it. Also the old owner’s home in the Derby-Pickman Building is also connected.
Now the tunnel entrance to Essex Street has been bricked closed, but there is a hole big enough to climb through. This section of tunnel was filled with ash and pumice which has caved in from the right and the left. Above is a granite slab which you can see in the sidewalk in front of the door.
The corridor is about 3 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Roots were growing through the tunnel from the direction of the Hawthorne Hotel. The tunnel extended past the granite slab and had water pipes running through it. Soon after the first printing of this book the Peabody Essex Museum buys this building to protect their secrets.
During Salem Con., a paranormal convention, they had a ghost investigation that resulted in a ghost talking through a ghost box (an app that records white noise which voices manifest through) pretending to be the ghost of Tituba.
For more read info Salem Secret Underground: The History of the Tunnels in the City and its sequel Sub Rosa by Chris Dowgin published by Salem House Press. Available at Barnes & Noble, Remember Salem, The Witch House, Jolie Tea, and Amazon.com.