A Jacob’s Ladder
Samuel Ward Lot
217 Essex Street and Derby Square
The lot was originally developed by Samuel Ward who had his warehouse on the corner of Essex Street and Derby Square. He sold the lot that included the next building to the right, to George Dodge and John Derby (Southern Essex County Registry Bk 143 Pg 260) in 1785. In 1795 they sell the left portion of the lot to the Essex Bank (Southern Essex County Registry Bk 168 pg 70). In 1805 the Essex Bank will be in the Central Building and in 1811 have their own building built on Central Street (Boy’s Club Building). The Essex Bank will sell their portion in 1839 to William Kimball.
In 1858 Kimball sells this portion to the Salem Savings Bank which was founded by Edward Augustus Holyoke, one of the smugglers in town. In 1899 the Kimball Block as it is called then burns down. This will be the second fire on this location. The first was Young’s hat Shop where the widows Beckford and Manning die in. In several paranormal investigations entities have been found. Many have been moved on. Under the front basement stairs is a tomb for two gentlemen who died on the Underground Railroad. A Jacob’s ladder. A highway to Heaven. Very similar to Sheriff Curwin’s burial in his house. The tomb is 12 feet long, concrete, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet high. We have had a water witch declare they reside there. Someone hammered a hole into the base and the basement smelled like dead rats for weeks. Commemoration has been tried for these souls, but stalled. Once an EVP had recorded an entity saying they were afraid when asked if they were scared. Beyond the men looking for freedom, many others might of died in the fire in 1899. Do the two widows still haunt the property?
In 1900 W.E Hoyt Company buys the lot and builds the current building for their clothing and furnishing company. In 1910 Naumkeag Trust Company buys the building. They refit the interior to better suit their bank.
In 1858 John Derby still owns the right portion of the estate. The building to the right was erected in 1873 and was the first cast-iron faced building in Salem utilizing the technology that would develop into the modern skyscraper. In 1874 the fifth floor was added. The Hale (Mercantile) Building was also bought by the Naumkeag Trust Company in 1910.
This building is a cornucopia of entrances, mazes, trapdoors, and more. Starting in the back left corner is a door that leads into Derby Square facing Old Town Hall. As you walk down these steps and through a little hallway you enter the subbasement of the building. On the right behind what seems to be a furnace is an old tunnel entrance. If you look in the ceiling here you will see round glass panels set in a piece of wrought iron. This was used to illuminate this entrance while someone looked for their keys to unlock the door into the tunnel. Such light apertures can be seen on entrances to Daniel Low’s, the old Sacon Jewelry store basement ceiling, and outside the Gulu Gulu. This light aperture is now sealed off by a layer of tar in the flower bed on Derby Square.
If you take a left you will notice how this subbasement was part of the original tunnel. After 4 paces to your right is an arch you can walk through to access an iron staircase bringing you into the basement. Now if you walk till the end of this room and take a right you will enter a small foyer to a bathroom. In the stall to the left is a trapdoor made of heavy marble. If you back track through the foyer to the room and head straight you will enter another level of the basement.
Take a right and head toward Essex Street. In front of you is a bathroom. Its ceiling has a section of bricks displaying the original grade of the sidewalk above. Beyond that is more corrugated steel holding up the sidewalk which is quite rotted. If you leave the bathroom and take a left you enter a room in which the wall facing Essex Street and the wall facing Derby Square is attached to glass panes that stretch 3 feet across the ceiling. They have broke into the tunnel on two sides of this room. When you enter either closet on the wall facing Essex Street you will notice that the rain has pulled the sheet rock off the wall and ceiling exposing the brick of the building and the rubble used to seal the tunnel off.
Now if you leave this room and take a left and quick right you will pass the possible tomb of two runaway slaves. The story goes that somewhere in Salem two gentlemen died and were not allowed a proper burial because their existence might hinder others who longed for freedom. So they encased them in a concrete tomb. There has been an attempt by people in town to consecrate the area as a national memorial, but they failed. In this basement is a 12 foot slab that is 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. It is open in part and then runs under a staircase. It is on the wall where one old basement connected to another. We have had several mediums say this was their final resting place and when someone dug into the base of this slab the basement smelled like dead rats for weeks afterwards. More runaway slaves have also been buried under the tunnel running from Daniel Low building to his warehouse. Daniel Low in the 1930’s refitted the floor of the tunnel to prevent the state having access to a burial ground they could commemorate.
Take another right again you will find another tunnel entrance within an arch. Under the arch is a hole similar to the one in the Downing Building and the Naumkeag Block. This one is covered by plywood hiding the sewer lines access to the building. In the roof of the arch is a hole similar to all the arched entrance ways to the tunnels. If you exit the arched entrance and head to your right you will enter another room under Mud Puddle Toys. To your left facing Essex Street is a workbench. Above the workbench is a little door that leads you into another tunnel entrance. You have to climb down from the workbench through the door into the tunnel. This shaft goes 12 feet and is littered with building debris. Near the back of the shaft in the ceiling is another hole that terminates into a small manhole in the sidewalk. When you exit the doorway above the workbench you can walk to the back right corner to a stairway to Higginson Square. This is also another sealed tunnel entrance. Between the last two mentioned rooms is a hallway which was the original tunnel that separated the two buildings.
To enter the second half of the basement you must apply to the rear of the building. In the alley way in between the Goddess Treasure Chest and this old building there is an old iron door made to fit a Hobbit. Once inside you climb down an iron ladder. There you will see a subbasement before you with another iron ladder leading you down. Now to your right you will see a window and a sealed off tunnel entrance, made once more for a Hobbit, that is in line with the Goddess Treasure Chest tunnel patio. This would of been the way to enter that building. If you walk to your left you will find two chambers. The one closest to the alley is quite empty and runs to Higginson Alley. The other one goes past another chamber with a spiral stair. Both chambers terminate at a Mosley vault made by the Hamilton company in Ohio.
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