When we started this we pulled a name out of the hat as a working title, that just seemed to fit at the time. As the idea and the plan took shape, “The Brickyard Project” just stuck. When you learn a little about the history of the neighborhood, it’s no wonder.
In the earliest days of Lynn, the “Brickyard” area was home to some of Lynn’s most vital industries – in particular, the shoe industry as early as the 1700s. Lynn would become the center of shoe-making in the country and the world, and much of the industry was located in what was to become “The Brickyard”. It was a relatively open space, with access to the docks and the eastern corridor rail lines, and it was a natural spot for Caleb and Reuben Alley, in 1832, to start a brickyard that was in operation for about 25 years. “The Brickyard” name was coined, and it stuck.
Several other industries gravitated to the area; stone, coal, scrap and salvage metals, for much the same reasons and the neighborhoods began sprouting up with housing for workers. The community was rich with an international ethnic mix that would characterize Lynn to this day. The Brickyard neighborhood was, even before its nickname, the core of the industrial and economic engine that would build Lynn into a driving force of the New England economy. GE would build in Lynn, dating back to their presence here as far back as the early 1800s, and other companies found their homes here as well.
As the economy softened in the ’50s, many plants were forced to scale back or close, and the Brickyard neighborhoods bore much of the brunt of layoffs and unemployment. The culture and community of the neighborhood remained vibrant and energetic, and brought color and diversity to the city in every way.
As an example of “Urban Renewal” in the early ’60s, but with a 1950s vision rooted in building housing for WW2 veterans, the Brickyard neighborhood was the target of what would, in many opinions, become an ill-conceived, and only partially realized reconstruction of a neighborhood perceived to be in decline. Much of the area was bulldozed, and several large scale buildings were built – including the Lynn Vocational Tech Institute. Even as an incomplete, and by some opinions, misguided vision, the Brickyard was seen as an opportunity to spark new economic development in the city.
While our “Brickyard Collaborative” still doesn’t quite have a home, the Brickyard neighborhood and the downtown is the focus of our search. It’s a central location accessible to transportation, but it also has a legacy that speaks to creating economic force, a focus on innovation, providing opportunity to city as well as bringing talent, energy and interest in from surrounding communities, and looking towards a powerful and exciting future in the world economy.
We can’t help but think of the generations of hard-working, determined visionaries and entrepreneurs who found a home and built their businesses in the Brickyard, and imagine them smiling.
Keep building, keep making! Play nice and clean up after yourselves.
For a complete narrative of the history of The Brickyard, see The Brickyard: The Life, Death and Legend of an Urban Neighborhood by Kathryn Grover. (Also available from the Lynn Museum)