Secret Stairway Intrigues Norden House Owners
A secret stairway inside one of Marblehead's oldest houses has its owners and local historians looking for answers.
The space for a secret stairway inside Glover Square's Norden House is something of a local mystery - and even the home's new owners are looking for answers as to exactly what it was used for.
According to archival materials gathered at the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society Tuesday afternoon, the home that Fred and Elise Brink moved into about a year ago was constructed sometime between 1657 and 1686 and ranks among the oldest in Marblehead.
The home's famed owner, Col. Nathaniel Norden, was a loyalist, served as a member of the Board of Selectmen and is said to be the first aristocrat in Marblehead who had a coat of arms, according to the records.
The attic of the dark three-story house is also known to have been the scene of secret masses for local Catholics, who would have had no church of their own to go to.
But why would this secret staircase be located right next to the home's front door?
On a tour of the house Tuesday, Fred Brink was happy to show off the small doorway immediately adjacent to the home's front entrance, which opens through a false wall and into a cavernous space just big enough for a staircase leading all the way to the attic.
Fred Brink has his theories about the passageway - one is that Norden may have planned to expand the house but never needed to because he didn't have any children; another is that it simply provided an alternative way up to the attic; Brink also believes the staircase could have been used as part of The Underground Railroad.
According to a news article published in the Marblehead Messenger in December of 1933, the Norden House's secret stairway wasn't always as readily accessible as it is now. At the time when the article was written, it had reportedly been sealed off.
"There is a secret stairway at the side of the front entry which is now closed. There is a panel at the side that is opened by a secret spring which makes the panel slide back," the article read. "Then one had only to go through the panel to the stairs, slide the panel back and go up to the attic."
The article did reveal some interesting facts about the passageway and how the secret door was activated, but didn't offer any clues as to what it was used for.
Brink said the home's former owner even sought out a historical architect to uncover the staircase's true purpose but was never given a definitive answer.
The answer, it seems, may never be known for sure.