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.

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