Celebrating the less-told stories of Salem, Massachusetts

July 1, 2018

Salem Savings Bank - Salem, Massachusetts



Signature ledger, 1818. Note #3, Joseph White opened an account for Lydia Kimball, his housekeeper.
Signature ledger, 1818. Note #3, Joseph White opened an account for Lydia Kimball, his housekeeper.

The Salem Savings Bank began in January 1818 as a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts. The petition stated, “the object of the Society is to receive deposits of money from such persons as may be disposed to make them, and to use and improve the same for their benefit.” The petition was signed by over sixty men from Salem, many bearing such recognizable names as Joseph White, John Derby, Nathaniel Bowditch, and Stephen Phillips. The Act of Incorporation was granted as “The Institution for Savings in Town of Salem and its Vicinity,” creating the county’s second incorporated savings bank; Provident Institution for Savings in Boston had been founded less than two years prior. The first meeting was held on March 12, 1818. It was at this meeting that Edward Augustus Holyoke, a local physician, was voted president, with Joseph White, Benjamin Pickman, Jr., Joseph Story, Jacob Ashton, and Moses Townsend serving as vice presidents. There were nearly ninety incorporators including, Reverend William Bentley, Jerathmiel Peirce, and Benjamin W. Crowninshield. The bank opened on April 15, 1818 at 4 Central Street, then known as Market Street. It was open each Wednesday for one hour beginning at noon. Within six months the bank had received over $26,000 in deposits. The secretary made note that most of their 184 depositors had been women, writing, “…Sailors not being disposed to deposit their earnings, which if husbanded at all, can be turned to greater advantage, when taken with themselves as adventures on their voyages.” By 1822 the bank reported having received over one thousand deposits, stating, “…It must be a subject of great satisfaction to all whose benevolence had led them to take an interest in the success, that the Institution, which has now been in operation four or five years, has fully answered the most sanguine expectations of the projectors.” In April 1830, Salem was stunned by the gruesome murder of Salem Savings Bank trustee and founding member Captain Joseph White, who was found bludgeoned in his home at nearby 128 Essex Street. The trial carried on throughout the summer of that year with White’s nephew Stephen, another founding member, receiving the bulk of the Captain’s estate. The murder would make its mark on literary history, influencing the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne. On February 25, 1843, with Joseph Peabody as president, the Institution for Savings changed its name to Salem Savings Bank. The following year it relocated to Pickman Place on Essex Street, near present day Downing Block. It remained there until 1855, when it moved to its final location, the then newly built Asiatic Building. The Asiatic Building, located at 125 Washington Street, was designed by William H. Emmerton and Joseph C. Foster and was built partially on land originally belonging to the First Church and the Higginson Family. When the Asiatic Building was completed in 1855, its address was 28 Washington Street. The building replaced an earlier structure that was listed in the 1853 Salem Directory as being the home of Joseph Gardner, Jr. a carpenter. The Asiatic Building housed multiple banks and financial institutions, earning the nickname “The Bank Block.” Residents included: Naumkeag National Bank, Merchants Bank, Salem Marine Insurance Company, and the Salem Savings Bank. The Odd Fellows Hall was also located on the top floor and their name adorned the facade of the building until the early part of the 20th century. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Salem Savings Bank survived multiple setbacks that bankrupted other institutions including the Panic of 1857, which depleted the bank’s deposits from $1,808,00 to just $30,000. It was hit again just a few years later with the outbreak of the Civil War. Many account holders withdrew their savings in favor of United States bonds, which were tax exempt and promoted as a sign of patriotism. This continued throughout the war as the government appealed to citizens for more support. The Salem Savings Bank suffered large withdrawals again at the close of the war, losing $25,000 on the first day and more than $100,000 by the end of the week. The bank was confident in its investments and by the following year reported a full recovery. Additional panics occurred in 1873 and 1893 but had no lasting impact on the bank’s operations. Scandal erupted in December 1893 when then President Edward D. Ropes and Treasurer Charles N. Simonds confronted a well-respected teller named Clarence Murphy about missing funds. During their interrogation, Murphy excused himself to gather more paperwork. He then quickly made his way to a bank drawer, stuffing $500 into his pocket before grabbing his overcoat. Ropes and Simonds, who had been waiting for Murphy’s return, looked out an office window and noticed him running down Higginson Alley toward Washington Street. Murphy would ultimately be charged with the embezzlement of $60,000 and would lead police on a two year search. The story garnered national attention and was covered in newspapers throughout the country. Murphy was arrested in February 1896 in San Francisco. The first half of the 20th century ushered in a new look for the Asiatic Building, now fully inhabited by the Salem Savings Bank. In 1911 the “Odd-Fellows Hall” sign, which was installed in 1893, was removed from the building’s top fa├žade. At that time, Architect Arthur E. French was brought in to give the building a Colonial Revival update. In May 1942, the Boston Herald reported the completion of another remodel of the Salem Savings Bank building that included the removal of the building’s top floor and cupola. Several hundred visitors came out to celebrate the renovations and to view a newly installed painting by local artist Phillip Little in the bank’s lobby. The painting depicted Derby Wharf as it was thought to have appeared during the height of Salem’s Golden Age of Sail. The Salem Savings Bank continued its operation until 1981 when it merged with First East Bank of Lynn, reorganizing as Eastern Bank in 1989.
Salem Savings Bank Ledgers
Salem Savings Bank Ledgers

The acquisition of the Salem Savings Bank Collection was announced by
Salem State University on April 25, 2018.



*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections.

June 4, 2018

Charlotte Nichols - Salem, Massachusetts




The Peirce-Nichols House at 80 Federal Street was originally built for Jerathmiel Peirce, who was part owner of a 171-foot, three-masted Salem East Indiaman named Friendship (a recreation of which now resides at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site).
These real photo postcards feature Peirce’s great-granddaughter, Charlotte Sanders Nichols. In the photos, Charlotte is seated in front of the Peirce-Nichols’ carriage house with an unidentified young girl. It is believed that the doll being displayed may have belonged to Charlotte’s great-grandmother Sarah (Ropes) Peirce.
In 1917, Charlotte and her two sisters, Augusta and Martha, donated their stately mansion to the Essex Institute with the stipulation that they could remain in the home. Charlotte, the youngest, was the last Nichols family occupant; she passed away in 1935.

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*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 


May 28, 2018

Salem Willows Tintypes - Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Willows Tintype
Methodist Episcopal Church Picnic - August 10, 1904
Marcella Riggs, William Ross, Hector Peabody, and Estelle Bowen

Although Salem had been an early adopter of photography, the field experienced a boom at the turn of the 20th century. Photographers like Frank Cousins and Leland Tilford were most active at this time, taking and selling souvenir images of Salem landmarks and everyday life. At the same time photography made its way to Salem Willows, where it quickly became a competitive novelty item.
Tintypes, an early form of photography, found a revival in carnivals and resort destinations in the 1890s. Around 1904 Mr. H.J. Esbach and Mrs. C.E. Leighton opened competing studios on the Willow’s Fort Ave. Unlike other types of photography, tintypes were inexpensive, quick, and offered a laid-back approach. Many subjects wore their work clothes, came barefoot off the beach, or brought their own props to take silly photos for friends and family. For lower and middle-class Salemites, tintypes offered an economical option in capturing family portraits and documenting special outings that otherwise wasn’t available to them.

Salem Willows Tintype
Taken at Esbach's Photograph Studio

Salem Willows Tintype
Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Eller 
September 1, 1908

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

May 22, 2018

Trade Cards - Salem, Massachusetts

V.C. Stowe & Son trade card

Trade cards were a popular form of advertising in the second half of the 19th century. These cards were used by both national brands and local businesses to advertise: products, food items, shops, services, medicines, and everything in between.
Unlike modern advertisements, trade cards were often printed on high quality papers and featured colorful, elaborate artwork, making them attractive collectors’ items during the Victorian era.
The popularity of trade cards waned at the turn of the 20th century due to the rise of postcards and magazines.

Holly Tree Dining Room trade card

Union Pacific Tea Co. trade card


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

April 1, 2018

Salem Depot - Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Railroad Depot. Moulton-Erickson Photo Co. Late 19th century
Built in 1847 for the Eastern Railroad, (later Boston and Maine) the Salem Depot long dominated the downtown skyline. The castle-like granite structure was designed by Gridley Bryant, a well-known Boston architect and stood at the intersection of Washington and Norman Streets.
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1940's photograph showing a train at the Salem Railroad Depot
As part of a new railroad design, the razing of the Salem Depot began in Fall of 1954 and was completed in Spring 1955. In 1958 the site was paved over, becoming the Riley Plaza we see today.
For over a 100 years, the Salem Depot was one of the most recognizable Salem landmarks and appeared on postcards, in paintings, and in many photographs.






*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

March 18, 2018

From Horse Cars to Buses - Salem, Massachusetts

Electric streetcar turns on to Essex Street from Washington Square East. 1930s.

Salem Street Railroad Company, the city’s first street railway, was incorporated in 1862. This horse car railway system or “horse railroad” continued to grow over the next decade. In 1863 the line connected to the surrounding towns of Peabody and Beverly. South Salem received its own branch in May 1864 and North Salem followed in June 1869.
In 1875, the system was reorganized as Naumkeag Street Railway Company, which made Salem Willows its first addition. This boosted tourism to the already popular waterfront park resulted in added attractions and restaurants in the coming years. During the summer, horse cars could transport as many as ten thousand visitors to and from Salem Willows.
In the 1880s, the railway continued to add lines, including those to Gloucester, Harmony Grove in Salem, Marblehead, North Beverly, Wenham, and Asbury Grove in Hamilton. The fare cost between 5 and 30 cents, depending on destination. A trip from Salem to Wenham took about an hour to complete. In these early days, horse car service was more individualized, allowing for passengers to wave down cars. Conductors often ran errands for residents, delivering groceries or transporting medicine to the sick. By 1887, the Naumkeag Street Railway Company had 105 cars, 390 horses, and 30 miles of track.

Electric Streetcar
Electric Streetcar on Beverly-Salem Bridge c. 1890-1910.
In the 1890s, Naumkeag Street Railway Company was acquired by Lynn & Boston Railroad Company, better connecting Salem to Boston through the Lynn line. At this time, electric street cars began to gradually replace the previous horse car system. This change required heavier tracks to be laid and electric cables to be hung over them. As cities were electrified, horses and horse cars were transferred to outlying areas that still used the old system, until they too were modified. In 1901 the Lynn & Boston Railroad Company reorganized as Boston & Northern Street Railway. Electric streetcar service in Salem continued to be consolidated and reorganized, in 1911 becoming Bay State Street Railway Company, and lastly, Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway in 1919.
Buses began to replace streetcar lines in Massachusetts as early as the 1920s, reaching Salem in 1931. Salem’s conversion to an all bus system was complete by 1937, with the last streetcar traveling to Beverly on March 1st of that year.


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

February 22, 2018

The Empire Theatre - Salem, Massachusetts

Empire Theatre, Salem Massachusetts
The Empire Theatre, Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts

On August 29, 1907, theater giant Julius Cahn unveiled his nearly 1,500 seat theater at 285 Essex Street. The Empire Theatre was built on the previous site of Mechanic Hall, which had been lost to a fire only two years prior.
For the construction of Salem’s Empire Theatre, Cahn employed his usual team, which included architect, Charles E. Horn and contractor, E.C. Horn. By 1908, Julius Cahn had nearly 300 affiliated theaters spanning the Northeast to Ohio.
The 1915-1916 season was chronicled by theater fan Charlotte M. Younge, who had moved to Salem with her father in 1914. Charlotte combined her memories, Salem Evening News interviews, and playbills to create a complete overview of the Empire’s performances for that year. Charlotte dedicated her manuscript to Carolyn Elbert, the Empire Theatre Company’s leading lady, writing: “It is my intention to review some of the plays presented at the Empire Theatre, Salem, Mass., during the engagement of the most loveable and popular leading lady Salem ever knew.”
Charlotte notes that the 1915-1916 season opened on September 6, 1915 with “Get-Right-Quick-Wallingford” the story of two swindlers masquerading as wealthy businessmen in Iowa. The play follows their troubled, though comedic, adventures. The season ended on January 31, 1916 with “At-Bay.” Charlotte writes that following the last performance of “At-Bay,” Carolyn Elbert announced she would be departing the Empire Theatre Company and Salem. Charlotte wrote, “I was speechless. The news spread like wildfire and letters flew into the manager’s office begging him not to send her away…Many people cancelled their subscription tickets…Salem was actually heart-broken until the news came of her marriage and then it rejoiced that she gained, rather than lost, by the manager’s mistake.”
The Empire Theatre building was removed in 1955 and the site is now a public parking lot, adjacent to Essex House, a condominium complex.


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

February 17, 2018

Gallows Hill - Salem, Massachusetts



For centuries, Gallows Hill has attracted visitors for its alleged connection to the Salem Witch Trials. The location appears early on in Salem Visitor’s Guides as “Witch Hill.” The guides included a small section about “The Witchcraft Delusion” that discussed buildings and locations related to the events of 1692. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that “Witchcraft Delusion” gained its own chapter, separate from Salem's “Historical Sketch.”


For the first half of the 20th century however, Gallows Hill was possibly better known for its Independence Day bonfires. The night of July 3rd, many would gather to see the midnight lighting of the up to 90 foot tall pyramid of old barrels, collected from local tanneries.
In 1921, historian Sidney Perley suggested that Proctor’s Ledge, a lower ridge of Gallows Hill, was the more likely location of 1692 executions. Nevertheless this finding did not halt interest in Gallows Hill. The area still continues to attract visitors, tour groups, and discussion in international publications and films.


*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections.