JOHN WILKINSON AND THE GRANITE BLOCK
For many years before the Chelsea Fire of 1908 a large building made of granite blocks, was located on Broadway and Fourth Street-extending back to Cherry Street. This building, commonly called the "Granite Block," was the property of a self made Chelsea business man, John H. Wilkinson.
John Wilkinson was born in Berwick, Maine in 1819. Leaving home at an early age, Mr. Wilkerson obtained work on a farm. After seven years of farm work, John Wilkinson went to Dover, New Hampshire and became an apprentice in the carpenter's trade. He mastered the trade, but was earning only thirty dollars a year plus keep. Determined to better himself, John Wilkinson in 1843, moved to Boston obtaining employment immediately. He worked with such success, that two years later he began his own business. It was during this time, 1845, that he made his home in Chelsea.
During the period of 1867 to 1873 Boston began a project of street improvement. Fort Hill section was first on the agenda. At one time an area of many of Boston's wealthy, it had become covered with run down tenement buildings and became a blight on Boston. Fort Hill was reduced in height to a level commensurate with the region surrounding. This enabled the area to be developed further. The 540,000 cubic yards of earth taken from the hill was used to fill in the ragged edge of streets and old docks reaching into the water, from Rowe's Wharf to the East Boston ferry landing.
Boston put the land on the new Fort Hill up for sale. John Wilkinson purchased several lots of this new land. This proved to be the foundation of many future property dealings. In 1868, Mr. Wilkinson purchased the Sears building, on the corner of Washington and Court Streets in Boston. John Wilkinson had this large granite building dismantled block by block and moved to Broadway and Fourth Street, Chelsea. The building was rebuilt at this location and became known as the "Granite Block", the largest business building in Chelsea. The "Granite Block" existed until the fire of 1908.
During the fire of 1908 the building was dynamited in a vain attempt to create a fire break. The next day on Cherry Street, in the rear of the building three bodies were found, Mrs. Minnie L. Fenwick, Wife of Dr. Fenwick, her niece Mrs. Edith Barnes, and Mrs. Fenwick's maid, Alvina Boyer, all died from smoke inhalation.
After the fire the building was replaced by a one story business block, consisting of stores. One of the earliest stores was the Ideal Market owned and run by Mr. H. Gregoire. The last occupant was J. J. Newberry, a five and ten cent store. The building was finally destroyed by fire and the area leveled. MacDonalds contemplated building on the lot but changed their mind. Today it is a private parking lot.
John Wilkinson was an example of one of Chelsea's self-made entrepreneurs and community activist.