As soon as I saw that this week’s theme for Theme Thursday was “Shoe” I instantly knew what I wanted to post. Wanting to be assured I had the most accurate information to pass along, I took a trip to our local historical society. There I met a little white haired lady in her mid-eighties named Izzy.
Izzy worked for the largest shoe factory in town, International Shoe Company, from 1947 -1949 and filled me in on the history of shoe making in my town. Izzy’s father and his three brothers all worked at the International Shoe Factory here in town. Each rose through the ranks to become an office manager. The three brothers each moved to a different factory in other small towns in Missouri. Izzy’s family, like so many others, depended on the shoe industry for their living. Children followed parents to work in the factories. When the factories closed to move overseas it often left entire families out of work across several generations.
I tried to give you the condensed version but my narrative is still lengthy. If you don’t have time to read it, you may want to jump to where I placed my pictures. There is a slide show of the vacant International Shoe Factory and a collage of the old Deb Shoe Factory that was recently made into a modern apartment building for those over fifty-five. Now here is my shoe tale.
1950 photo taken in the Brown Shoe Store, Washington Mo.
I live in a small Missouri riverfront town that started as a cluster of cabins around the only natural landing, in the area, suitable for use by ferryboats. The increasing need for trade goods, and craftsmen allowed the small hamlet to boom into a good size town that, in1869, became the city of Washington.
Looking for a stable economic base, the city fathers enticed the Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe Company of St. Louis to build a factory here on land provided by the city. That first factory opened in 1907 and Washington entered a new economic era as a shoe factory town. A second shoemaker located here in 1925and for several generations the town's fortunes were tied to the shoe industry.
The town’s population had doubled to 5,900 by the 1920’s and by l934over l900 Washingtonians were making their living at the shoe factories. Besides the two large factories, the town also supported a number of smaller factories and cobbler shops. These specialized in hand crafted custom orders for department stores in St. Louis.
1920 era men's work boots
The Roberts, Johnson, and Rand Shoe Company and the Peters Shoe Company merged in 1911 forming the International Shoe Company. International Shoe Company became the largest shoe manufacturing company in the United States. Their factory here manufactured men’s boots and was expanded several times over the years. During WWll our plant produced army boots. At its peak, the Washington International plant was manufacturing two million pairs of shoe a year. International operated here from 1907 until 1960 when most of the shoe industry in the US was moved overseas.
Vintage army boots
Since International closed its doors in 1960, the factory, encompassing two square blocks, sat empty until recently when small sections were rented to a metalsmith and someone who rebuilds electric motors. A local auctioneer has been using one of the out buildings as a staging area and the gravel parking area to hold estate auctions. Regardless, they are only using a small fraction of the space available.
But, the building I captured with my camera is still a relic with a chimney that is falling apart. Despite the tall chain link fence and the barbed wire, it is apparent that someone has been trespassing. But, when I took these photo’s I noticed that much of the graffiti is gone and many of the broken windows have been replaced. So perhaps this old building that once provided a living to so many will someday find the same rebirth as the old Deb Shoe Factory and become something new and modern once again.
The Fore Shoe Company’s factory opened here in 1925 and went through several name changes, among them the KDK (Kain, Duncan and Krauss) and finally the Deb Shoe Company. Deb only made ladies dress shoes and ceased operation in the mid 1970’s, moving its manufacturing plant to Australia. The Deb Shoe Factory building looked very much like the International building above. It set empty from the mid 1970's until 2007 when restoration began. The building now houses a modern apartment building geared to those over fifty-five.