Charles Bulfinch and the Tunnels in Salem, Boston, and Washington D.C.

bulfinch-tunnels

Charles Bulfinch served from 1791 to 1795 on Boston’s board of selectmen for free… He stepped down when there was a glut of tunnels/houses to be built. Then he returns in 1799. From 1799 to 1817, he was the chairman of Boston’s board of selectmen improving the city’s streets, drains, and lighting. In 1800 opium smuggler Russell Sturgis was on the board with him. Through this connection he would meet Thomas H. Perkins and build the Perkins School for the Blind, Mass General Hospital, and the Beacon Hill Monument that Perkins financed.

“Boston was the child of my Father and he did pretty much what he wanted with it,” his son said. Bulfinch designed the Boston Common, remodelling Faneuil Hall (1805), and built India Wharf. Bulfinch had built the Federal Street Theatre where Edgar Allan Poe’s mother and Grandmother performed in.
It can be said he built Beacon Hill. Built Colonnade Row between West and Mason on the Common which have been taken down. Bulfinch built 3 houses for Essex Junto member Harrison Otis Gray in Boston. Then 87 Mt. Vernon Street for Stephen Higginson Jr. Plus 13,15, 17 Chestnut Street for Mrs. Swan. Also Bulfinch was friends with Hon. Stephen Longfellow, the poet’s father, which might confirm the existence of tunnels leading from the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA.

He also became the Police Superintendent 1794. Imagine the man who was most responsible for the conveyance of all the smuggling in Boston and Salem through his tunnels, a Police Superintendent? He had to take the job because he was suffering from being on the brink of bankruptcy. He had a small respite two years later, but he continued to have financial troubles. He was building the State House in 1796 at the time he received only $1,400 for designing and overseeing its construction. In 1811 he went to debtor’s prison. He spent time in the jail he built himself. He also risked bankruptcy in 1815 filling in the flats to extend Charles Street to West Boston Bridge.

When you are digging tunnels, you need property to hide the dirt in. If that property is on a marsh or a river even better. I assume he overextended himself in between payments for the buildings he was erecting or the tunnel digging was proceeding slower than expected.

He also designed the Massachusetts State Prison (1803); Boylston Market (1810); University Hall for Harvard University (1813–1814); the Meeting House in Lancaster, Massachusetts (1815–17); and the Bulfinch Building home of the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital (1818), its completion overseen by Alexander Parris, who was working in Bulfinch’s office at the time the architect was summoned to Washington.

Charles Bulfinch from 1818-1830 was architect of DC with a salary of $2,500 plus expenses. He met President James Monroe in the Summer of 1817 and spent two weeks travelling with him in Massachusetts. Bulfinch brought him to Salem to show him the tunnels in Salem at Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Crowninshield’s, Senator Nathaniel Silsbee’s House, Superior Court Justice Joseph Story’s, and Stephen White’s homes. Benjamin Crowninshield, Nathaniel Silsbee, and Joseph Story were directors of the Boston Branch of The Second Bank of the United States in the building built by Bulfinch. Stephen White was a major investor in the bank. After this visit Monroe had hired Bulfinch to rebuild Washington after the siege of the capitol during the 1812 War.

In Salem he built Old Town Hall, The Essex Bank Building known as the Boy’s Club, and Looby Asylum. Then many others follow his design of connecting tunnels through exterior chimneys that prevent flashing problems and create a draw system through their flues for the tunnels in town. It was another writer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maternal grandmother’s brother Jonathan Waldo who engineered the design of the tunnels in Salem to have a brick arch supporting them along their course.

As the Architect of D.C., Bulfinch completed the Capitol’s wings and central portion, designed the western approach and portico, and constructed the Capitol’s original low wooden dome to his own design (replaced by the present cast-iron dome completed in the mid-1860s). In 1829 Bulfinch completed the construction of the Capitol, 36 years after its cornerstone was laid. During his interval in Washington, Bulfinch also drew plans for the State House in Augusta, Maine (1829–1832), a Unitarian Church and prison in Washington, D.C.. In 1796 he built the State House in Connecticut for the Blue Light Federalists.

During his tenure he connected the major buildings in the capitol by an elaborate tunnel design that runs at least 3 levels deep. I was able to venture between the Adams and Jefferson wings of the Library of Congress through the 3 levels of tunnels that attach them. They are open to the public, but the book shelves are not. I wanted to take a picture of my books on their shelves. I found out your not allowed and they will have someone go and fetch the book for you. In the end I do have a Library of Congress Card. Also you now enter the capitol Building as a tourist through the tunnel in front of it. Senators tend to use the tunnels to avoid the public. Bulfinch left the job eventually because it could not support his family.

Charles Bulfinch’s sister Elizabeth marries into the Coolidge family. Her husband traces back to the 1630 Watertown resident John Coolidge. President Calvin Coolidge also traces back to him. Elizabeth Bulfinch Coolidge married Joseph Coolidge II. Their son Joseph Coolidge III in 1824 attended the reunion of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette at Monticello. He might of journeyed with Lafayette from Salem to Virginia. There he met Jefferson’s granddaughter Ellen Wayles Randolph, whom he married the following year. Their son was Thomas Jefferson Coolidge. He was one of Perkins’ opium dealers in Russell & Co. Thomas Jefferson Coolidge Jr. would be part owner of United Fruit who had a small genocide in Guatemala. So Charles’ sister married a bad banana…

Charles’ children would do better. One son Thomas wrote Bulfinch’s Mythology. It was a posthumous 1881 compilation of his three previous works: The Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Heroes (1855), The Age of Chivalry, or Legends of King Arthur (1858), Legends of Charlemagne, or Romance of the Middle Ages (1863). Its a classic work of mythology, the standard and still in print 160 years later. Edward Everett Hale compiled his previous works to make the Mythology. It includes various stories from the Matter of Rome, the Matter of Britain and the Matter of France, respectively. Bulfinch wrote in his preface: “Our work is not for the learned, nor for the theologian, nor for the philosopher, but for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets, and those which occur in polite conversation.” It was dedicated to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who was a friend of the family.
His other son George Greenleaf Bulfinch’s son is Francis Vaughn Bulfinch the architect. Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge built the original Italian Villa at Castle Hill in Ipswich MA for Richard T. Crane Jr. who was a member of the Jekyll Island Club who met in private to plan the Federal Reserve. He also was a bootlegger who built his home on the ocean. The Italian Villa was torn down because he promised his wife if she still hated it after ten years they would build a new one. It was torn down after ten years for the current house.

I used to work in the home every weekend for a catering company owned by a dignitary and high Buddhist monk from the territory of Sikkim in India. May you always be well Sonam.

Here is a little secret, if you want to tour the current mansion which has been in Witches of Eastwick and Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past for free and get great parking; just tell the guard you forgot your vest over the weekend from working the last party and he will let you drive up to the mansion and park. The grounds were designed by the Olmsted Brothers. Their father was the landscape designer of the Columbian Expedition in Chicago where Moses Farmer would die after lighting the city.
In 1844 Charles Bulfinch would die. I wonder if he is still building tunnels or wormholes between worlds on the other side?
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For more tales like this about how Salem MA has shaped American History read Sub Rosa by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin available at Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com, and your favorite local independent book seller.
Ask for it by name!

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