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Old Town Hall
32 Derby Square
This was the site of Col. William Browne who was a loyalist during the Revolutionary War who fled to Canada. In consequence the state of Massachusetts confiscated his property in 1784. Through Derby’s wife he inherited Brown’s property including Castle Hill which Hawthorne called Brown’s Folly. Castle Hill will be torn down by the Massachusetts Rock and Stone Company. This mansion was designed by Charles Bulfinch and later modified by Samuel McIntire. Charles Bulfinch built the Capital Building in Washington D.C. , the Essex Bank Building in Salem, and the tunnels entrances that connect them. In between the years 1795 and 1799 the mansion was under construction. Soon after the construction was over Elias Hasket Derby dies.
After returning from sea, Elias Hasket Derby Jr. inherits the mansion and retires into it for 10 years. Did Elias Hasket Derby Jr. build the tunnels leading from the mansion or were they already there? If they preexisted his return to Salem, did these tunnels inspire him to connect other buildings in town? Either way he will spend the next 10 years filling in the Commons and building an extensive network of tunnels to the old colonial system.
At the end of his ten years with his finances faltering, Elias Hasket Derby Jr. returns to the sea and comes back with a 1,000 Merino sheep. Soon afterwards he moves to Londonberry, N.H. and sells the estate to John Derby III and Benjamin Pickman. The house had been left abandoned for years because of the high cost of sustaining it. Elias Hasket Derby Jr. has the mansion demolished before he sells it.
In 1816 John Derby III and Benjamin Pickman Jr. offer the foundation of the house to the town to have a market place and town hall on the property forever. The town accepts and they have Joshua Upham build Old Town Hall from plans drawn by Charles Bulfinch. Also brick stalls were added to the walkway leading to New Derby Street. These would be demolished at some point and rebuilt in the 1970’s which today houses Artist Row. The opening of Old Town Hall was graced with the appearance of James Monroe as he visited Salem. This will be one of many buildings Monroe would visit that was connected by the tunnels in town. Old Town Hall served as the city seat till 1836 when the new city hall was built.
Now when you sit in the men’s room as the train goes through the tunnel on Washington Street, 2 buildings away, you can feel the wind come through a vent in the back of the stall along with the sound of the wheels running on the track. The back wall of the men’s room is in the middle of the building. Access to the front of the basement towards Essex Street is prohibitive. As well as the back corner of the basement facing Lawrence Place. There are several manholes surrounding the property reading “S’, “Sewer”, and “Drain”. Staff on the city electrical building say it is connected to the current Bank Plaza Building and Daniel Low’s old Warehouse which used to house the Goddess Treasure Chest now.
In 1816 John Derby and Benjamin Pickman Jr. also built the Pickman Building at 22-26 Front Street and 15 Derby Square. 15 Derby Square houses Maria’ Sweet Something and the former location of Fiddelhead. The building in which Front Street Coffeehouse and the needlework shop is in was a later addition. The next row of buildings attached to these two were original along with a third building which stood where the air conditioning unit stands behind the fence.
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Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City!
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