By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Elliott "Barney" Blood Jr. was asleep in his heated front porch shortly after 2 a.m., on Sunday, when police officers came knocking on the door.
He looked out the windows. He then saw something bright.
"The flame was coming out of the door," Blood's wife, Doris, said of their meat shop, which has a smokehouse in back, across from their home.
"Horrible. Horrible," Barney Blood, 90, said Monday as he sat in the same porch, looking over the ruins that the four-alarm fire left behind.
For Blood, the fifth generation to run Blood Farm -- the centuries-old livestock grower that provides slaughtering services -- farming is a way of life.
Local farmers and residents have been calling, telling him to pick up the pieces and reopen the business. With so few slaughterhouses around, livestock growers, ranging from those with big herds to weekend farmers who have a few pigs to bring in now and then, all need Blood Farm.
And after sorting through his thoughts for more than a day, Blood now believes he knows what he wants to do next.
"I will probably rebuild," he said.
The day after his business was reduced to ashes in a fire, Blood began thinking about rebuilding.
Firefighters descended on Blood Farm, a 77-acre farm at 94 West Main St., in West Groton, early Sunday morning after a passerby noticed the fire and reported it.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday, but Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait has said the fire started in a smoke room.
The structure that caught fire dates back to the early 1970s and had a smoke room, meat-processing facility and a retail shop in it. The cinder-block and metal roof made it more difficult to put out the fire, Bosselait said Sunday.
The free-standing slaughterhouse, where 100 or more animals, including cows, pigs, sheep and goats, come through each week, escaped damage. Without a place to butcher or store meat, however, the business could not operate.
Blood Farm employs 15 to 20 people, depending on the season, and many are part-timers. They are without jobs at the moment, Blood said.
Blood, who is recovering from recent heart surgery, wasn't sure about what he wanted to do immediately after the fire. Then, the phone started ringing, and people began dropping in. They couldn't fathom the idea of Blood Farm being gone forever.
"It's a real blow to the town," John Ott, president of Groton Historical Society, said of the farm that started in the mid-1700s. "It leaves a hole in the community."
"It's bigger than just the local community," Sally Smith, owner of Common View Farm in Groton, said of Blood's clientele, which comes from all over New England. "It's really devastating."
Some farms with big herds depend heavily on Blood Farm, including Spring Brook in Littleton, which sells some cows to Blood Farm every week for its butcher shop. Spring Brook also has some cows processed by Blood weekly for the store.
Spring Brook owner Fran Matheson said she needs to raise calves and sell older ones on an ongoing basis to provide a steady supply of beef. But with Blood Farm, her biggest customer, gone, she many need to slow that cycle.
On the other hand, she said, her other customers have begun calling to stock up on her beef out of fear that it might become more difficult to get their hands on locally grown beef for a while.
For Matheson, the shutdown of Blood Farm means she has to drive farther to get her cows processed.
Also, "it means we don't do business with our close friends," Matheson said of the Blood family.
Ott, who brings his cows to Blood Farm occasionally, said the farm has earned its reputation for clean, swift and humane processing of meat and the overall quality of service.
Doris Blood said the farm also takes orders for its ham from across the country during the holiday season. Before Christmas, the parking lot was jammed with shipping trucks and farmers' and shoppers' vehicles, she said.
"Thank God that all got out," she said of the holiday supplies.
Barney and Doris Blood said doing business has become harder over the years because of the amount of paperwork required under slaughterhouse regulations. But keeping the farming tradition alive has been important to Barney Blood, who was born and raised on the land.
"I didn't realize it until now," Blood said, sitting by the windows that overlook the barn-red structure now with a roof that is soot-covered and caved.
The Bloods have two sons, both of whom are in the farming business.
Recognizing the needs of a slaughterhouse in the area, Blood said he will likely rebuild.
After talking with Blood on Monday, Matheson said that's her understanding, as well.
"It's their hope. It's our hope," Matheson said.