Home » Historic Building of the Week: Lee Mansion offers a tale of two banks

Historic Building of the Week: Lee Mansion offers a tale of two banks

A curious and confusing story surrounds the Lee Mansion’s history. Photo by Marblehead Historical Commission

History is not always a clear cut set of facts –  even when it seems like it should be. A teacher once described history as “the stories we tell ourselves about the past.”

Well, sometimes those stories are confusing.

I am very grateful to those who have taken the time to write down Marblehead’s history. I would not be able to write these articles without the innumerable books, photographs, and drawings in the archives that I have encountered.

But sometimes I wish the people who created these materials knew that 80, 100, 150 years later, I would be trying to use them. Things would be much simpler for me.

I want to write for you a story of the time that the Jeremiah Lee Mansion was a bank . . .or rather, it was two banks. As I flipped through Samuel Roads’ A Guide to Marblehead, I was very surprised to learn that Lee Mansion is “now occupied by the Marblehead National Bank, and the Marblehead Savings Bank.”

There was even a drawing of the mansion with two signs on it. Surely I would have noticed the signs, people walking in and out, or something else to indicate that this mansion contained two banks.  

Of course, for Roads, this statement was true. Both the National Bank and Savings Bank were located inside Lee Mansion . . . in 1881 when he published his book.

In fact, according to William R. Comer’s Landmarks “in the Old Bay State,” the mansion was home to the two banks for over 100 years until it was “recently” purchased by the Marblehead Museum.

Once again, I was surprised. I remembered the archaeological work being done by the mansion last year, but surely the Museum owned the mansion for longer than that. And indeed it has.

The Marblehead Museum purchased the building 114 years ago in 1909. In those years, it has worked to bring the mansion back to period appropriateness. It has been so well preserved that even the 18th century wallpaper is still on the walls.

For a second time, the author had duped me. To someone publishing a book in 1911, the year 1909 is “recent.” For someone writing in 2023, a too much time has passed to use that word.

I am taking away two lessons from my research into the period when the Lee Mansion held two banks, and I hope they may be useful to you yoo. First, buildings are just that– buildings. They are walls and roofs that hold people and things. Whom and which things they hold will inevitably change– mansions become banks become museums.

Second, remember to check the date on a book before you read it.