Welcome to tales of Nineteenth-Century Salem. A time in which Salem was the richest city and the most influential in shaping our young country. In our posts you will learn how Salem has shaped American history from the profits she made by the smuggling that happened in her tunnels by the most wealthy and powerful in their day; sometimes for the good, but more often not. So join us every Monday for new tales!
Charles Bullfinch gave a tour of Boston’s and Salem’s underground through their tunnels to President James Monroe and was hired to dig Washington D.C.’s tunnels. In Salem Bulfinch built the Poor Farm on Collins Cove, Looby Asylum, Essex Bank, and Old Town Hall. They were all attached to the tunnels in Salem. In Boston he built India Wharf, Bunker Hill Monument, Mass General Hospital, Federal Street Theater, and the State House. In 1797 he engineered a public work project to take down the Tremont and fill in the mudflats of the Charles River. He did this to hide the tunnel dirt he was digging to attach the various mansions in Beacon Hill. Six years later Elias Hasket Derby Jr. would copy his plan as he filled in the ponds and river in the Salem Common to hide his tunnel dirt.
For more info read Sub Rosa to find out how Salem shaped America and your lives! Available at Remember Salem, Jolie Tea, Wicked Good Books, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com.
Through the years since Salem Secret Underground has been written I have kept looking for new homes that are connected. Sometimes when I find them they come with funny stories. There was a home on Northey Street that housed a woman who was a horrible cook. Next door was an excellent cook. They would meet in the tunnel in between the houses and the one woman would deliver home cooked meals for her neighbor. These were passed off as her own.
Around the corner on Woodbury Court I met a family that had a tunnel running ¾ of the length of their home that was used to smuggle to and from the North River. The only thing blocking the entrance was a tall hill of sand.There was this great kid who would light up every time he would see me. I was that guy who told him he had a pirate tunnel in his basement. I kept hoping he would take his sand shovel and dig the entrance open…
Other times I would just schedule an appointment to see a house that was on the market. Several real estate agents would hand me their info and I would go and investigate the basements of these homes. Sometimes the agent forgot to bring the keys to the basement.When they did not I would get images of these sealed up ways. I found more houses on Oliver, Andrew, Federal, and Chestnut Streets. Sometimes I just confirmed homes I speculated about in the first book. With each confirmation I got to make updates to the book. Salem Secret Underground was a living book, it changed from week to week, or month to month for seven years.
In one of those houses I confirmed on Pickman Street had turned one of the tunnels into a bomb shelter. All of the stored water from the 40’s or 50’s were still in large wine bottles. Where the addition was added in the back there was a well in the basement where they used to drop gold fish into. This property was on the edge where Collins Cove used to be on the corner of Milk and Pickman streets, so the tunnel in the back of the house was flooded.
I have been under the chapel in Greenlawn Cemetery. We filmed those tunnels for a documentary. Another documentary on the tunnels airs on YouTube and Winthrop Cable. A tunnel led 20 feet from the basement heading southeast under the old greenhouse. A greenhouse, I wonder if it was the one Elias Hasket Derby Jr. sold in 1811 that was part of the Derby Mansion on Derby Square. The tunnel is blocked off at a staircase. This tunnel at one time was lit by electricity, much like the one coming out of the old Naumkeag Trust building on Essex Street. Heading Northwest from the basement is a long corridor leading to a chamber that used to house corpses in the winter. Now its stalls houses weed whackers. There is another tunnel leading south. Next to it is a toilet that had a ton of bricks dropped on it. I hope no one was using it at the time.One tunnel leads to Orne’s Point.
Other Tunnels in the Nation
There are many tunnels in Georgetown, another Peabody hunting ground. On the3300 Block of O Street Col. Alf Heidberg found an arched tunnel when digging out the basement for a bomb shelter.He lived there in the 50’s. His wife’s second husband was General Douglas MacArthur.Also the Halcyon House in Georgetown has what they call a slave tunnel which is haunted. Plus, Healy Hall Georgetown University.
Then the Water Street Custom House and under Federal Hill in Baltimore. This was the town Peabody moved to before he left for London.
Then the most interesting is Joseph Bonaparte’s mansion in Bordentown, NJ off of the Delaware. He moved to NJ in 1815 buying 1,800 acres in town. He was once king of Spain and Naples when his brother loomed over Europe. In 1816 he built his mansion Point Breeze that burned to the ground in 1820, but not before creating a paradise. An avid gardener Bonaparte installed a park on the grounds which was the forerunner to Central Park that he kept open to the public. The park was improved with trees, twelve miles of bridle paths and carriage drives, and an arched brick causeway across a man-made lake was constructed, all at a cost believed to be over $300,000 (over four and a half million in today’s dollars).
Many powerful people would visit his home. One was Stephen Girard. Stephen Girard who purchased most of the stocks of The First Bank of the United States when it lost its charter opened his own bank known as Girard’s Bank in the same building. He underwrote 95% of the loans to pay for the War of 1812. He then became a major stockholder and director of The Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia along with Joseph Story. Girard bought Joseph Bonapartea 16 oar barge to row his guests up the river.
Henry Clay Sr. had just took the last room in the City Hotel in NYC when Bonaparte arrived in America. Clay just returned from the signing the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812. Upon hearing Joseph was in the hotel he offered him his dinner and suite. This was the beginning of their friendship.Could of Clay brought Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams to Point Breeze. All have known to visit, but at the same time? If they did indeed visit together, I wonder if they compared the quality of his tunnels to the ones in Salem?
Then the Hoosac Tunnel outside of Fitchburg, MA in 1819. Originally proposed as a canal to connect Boston to Upstate New York via the Deerfield River on the east of the Hoosac Range and the Hoosic River on the west. That project was shelved, and later reborn as part of the new Troy and Greenfield Railroad. The project was nicknamed “The Great Bore” by future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who said he’d like to “wall up a dozen lawyers at one end of the tunnel and put a good fee at the other.” One of which is the lawyer Elias Hasket Derby III. He was the lawyer for the Fitchburg Railroad. His father might have engineered long tunnels, Junior was set to make huge tunnels.The Hoosac was built after Derby received a loan for $650,000 to build it. His other railroad from Boston to New Bedford was the Old Colony. The Old Colony rail will soon be restored as a commuter rail by my friend Adam who is working on the engineering plans for the State.
I looked up this reference after an acquaintance in the basement of an old underground smuggling train station now called Opus Underground in Salem. He had mentioned walking in long tunnels in Fitchburg and ending up under a grocery store.Also Fitchburg State University has a tunnel leading from Palmer House through the new Hammond Campus Center second level to the Thompson Hall’s basement. Thompson Hall was the original building built in 1896 that the college was housed in at its beginning. It is much like the Loring Mansion (St. Chretienne Academy) now part of Salem State University South Campus with the tunnel leaving the basement through the side of the hill to the old girls high school.
Here are some of their pictures:
To find out more and other fabulous stories about how Salem, MA shaped American History read Sub Rosa by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin published by Salem House Press.