A feature article on the North Shore in National Geographic nearly 40 years past (April 1979) prominently featured operations at the FlynnTan tannery. The sweat, the steam, the stink, the dankness almost leaps out of the photo.
The date of the photo in 1979 seems off, as the FlynnTan plant suffered a major fire, reputedly arson, in Aug 1976 that destroyed its oldest building, a late 19th century brick building on Boston St. supposedly the birthplace of American Shoe Machinery Corp, a firm that still exists. With half the plant gone, leather manufacturing continued fitfully in the remaining large 4-story wooden building on the other side of the site along Goodhue St. So the photo could have been taken before the 1976 fire and saved for the early 1979 article, or maybe it is contemporary with the article and illustrates the tedious non-automated processes in leather manufacturing still existent even in late 20th century. There is no mention of North Shore tanneries in the National Geographic article besides this sole photo, so why the magazine editors included it is a puzzle.
Either way, tanneries in Salem were doomed, even before the fire kicked FlynnTan in the gut. The remaining half of the plant puttered on for another decade before closing for good in 1988 upon declaration of bankruptcy. The plant degraded further, home to vagrants and druggies, taxes unpaid, fires common, before an EPA cleanup in 1998 cleared the way for demolition of the old wood building in late 1999, leaving a runt of a brick building along Boston St standing, the gold FlynnTan logo atop the chimney tower visible to travelers into Salem a long ways down the Boston St entryway. In the new century legal proceedings dragged on for years before the City of Salem finally took possession.
Even then redevelopment was snake bit. The first idea was to rebuild as mixed light manufacturing, but that proposal went nowhere before the first developer handed off the site to the next applicant. The next plan was to build a large medical clinic, taking advantage of proximity to the North Shore Medical Center, but that floated balloon deflated when it was realized that the half-dozen other medical clinics closer to NSMC were already more than Salem needed. Finally the last plan, years having passed, was for a mixture of townhouses and an apartment building with first floor retail, now under construction.
John Flynn started his leather business in 1920, bringing his three sons and daughter into business with him. It remained a Flynn family business until the end in 1988. The original plant employed a mere 18 persons making 100 dozen skins a day, expanding to a peak of 300 persons in the wartime boom of 1945. The plant initially produced leather for men’s slippers and sweat bands for the hat trade, switching after WWII to produce sheepskins and lambskins for the shoe industry, especially shoe linings.
During WWII FlynnTan expanded into cowhide leather to produce Air Force products, such as bombardier jackets, still seen on the internet under the FlynnTan logo.