This sign advertising the former grocery chain giant hangs in the Lynn Museum.
Opinion

Jourgensen: A building with a bloodline

Engage your imagination and you hear steel crash onto concrete and workers calling out instructions as you stand in the J.B. Blood building's former loading dock. 

The building with a long Lynn history has a new lease on life as a high school. The $30 million renovation turned a gritty industrial monolith on Wheeler Street into a bright, airy place where charter school students can learn. 

The renovation left the loading dock untouched and unused. It's heavy steel roll-up doors are just feet away from the commuter rail tracks and the dock's freight elevator is big enough to hold a compact car. 

Tony Catenacci helped oversee J.B. Blood's renovation for W.T. Rich, a Newton contractor. But he admits he felt like an archaeologist at times during the renovation. His workers found a large scale used in weighing animals and concrete pits he suspects were used for slaughtering sheep, pigs and other livestock in preparation for letting the butcher get to work. 

J.B. Blood may be a new school but longtime Lynners remember the building as a giant grocery where trains filled with produce and dry goods rolled up to the loading dock ready to disgorge their loads. 

A 1931 history of the building describes how Josiah B. Blood opened a grocery in 1881 in a local barn he shared with a butcher. Historian John M. Bresnahan Jr. pinpointed the barn's location at the lower end of Market Street near what is now the Broad Street intersection.

Customers could initially buy only two items in the store: kerosene or sugar. 

Blood's four sons went to work for him, and he relocated the store in 1896 to a new building at the former location of Summer and Pleasant streets. Blood added a second building in 1902 and expanded his grocery selections to meats, fish, vegetables and fruits and "... pickles fresh from the barrel."

He branched out across the city in 1907, opening a store branch at Union and Buffum streets. Customer demand over the next nine years prompted Blood to expand the store into a new building on Silsbee Street. 

History-loving Lynn readers will appreciate Bresnahan taking the time to note how Blood's store on Silsbee Street eventually closed and became an Elm Farm store and then a Richdale.

Blood's popularity saw the store become a grocery chain with early 20th century locations in Salem, Swampscott and Malden. Even as it expanded beyond Lynn, Blood took over Pleasant and Wheeler streets in the first three decades of the last century with a warehouse and its Beehive Bakery. 

The loading dock could handle six freight cars but Blood also had to lease a rail siding off nearby State Street to store six freight cars. In its heyday, the grocery employed 1,000 people — most of them Lynn residents, according to Bresnahan — and traded the last of its work horses for trucks in 1931. 

Eventually taken over by the Elm Farm, the Blood building was purchased by Lynn/EDIC (Economic Development & Industrial Corporation) in 1983, two years after the fire that seared downtown highlighted the Blood building's value as a potential business relocation site. 

Within 10 years, the Blood building housed a mix of social services agencies and businesses, including JOI daycare and the former North Shore Employment Training. 

Before its gradual transition to becoming a Knowledge Is Power Program charter school, the Blood building's notable tenants included New American Association of Massachusetts, Inc. 

Overseen by Natasha Soolkin, an energetic, always optimistic advocate for immigrants and refugees, the Center operated in the Blood building as a hub of opportunity and education with people from Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Central America and a dozen other countries and regions who studied English and took other classes in well-used offices and classrooms.

Once a thriving business that employed immigrants and provided opportunities for new Americans in the early 20th century, the Blood building in the late 20th century and into this century again became a place of hope for immigrants in the true Lynn tradition.

It makes me happy to see Soolkin and her staff continuing their good work in upgraded offices located in the Clocktower building on the Lynnway. As for the Blood building, Catenacci hopes kids who attend the grocery-turned-high school beginning next week will learn about the building's history and contribution to Lynn. 

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Thanks to everyone who enjoyed reading about the Lynn mayors City Hall exhibit. Thomas Bogart took the opportunity to unveil his family's long Lynn history, including his late mother, Priscilla's, love for the city.

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