“Shoe making town”

Holliston was a shoe making town.

Below is a short history taken from the Holliston Mill website.


With a bond issue offered to the rich and the not so well off alike, the construction of a three story manufacturing facility on Water Street, Holliston’s Big Shop, was undertaken with great optimism in 1891. The townspeople hoped to attract a major shoe manufacturer to the new building in order to provide more stable employment in a town with a large pool of skilled shoe workers in need of steady employment. Several of Holliston’s old guard in the shoemaking industry, such as the Batchelder brothers, had retired, died, or moved their factories to more economical environs, leaving Holliston with fewer job opportunities.

The completed building on Water Street was described as 203 by 35 feet, four stories tall; with a front porch ell and tower 20 by 30 feet, a brick engine and boiler house 30 by 30 feet, and a chimney built with 35,000 bricks to a height of 95 feet. The tower roof was slate, and the main part of the building had a flat gravel roof. The first floor was to be used for sole leather cutting, the second floor for bottoming rooms and offices; the third floor was for finishing and shipping and the fourth floor would be the cutting and stitching departments. No pillars or posts would obstruct any of the floor space. Each worker would have a window in front of him, as an effort to provide an improved working atmosphere. Water for all purposes was to be provided by the new Holliston Water Company. Many of the major shareholders of the new factory also had a major financial interest in the Water Company. John D. Shippee was the superintendent of both projects. George M. French was heavily involved with construction of the buildings at Water Street as well as at the Water Company at East Holliston. Henry Bullard was a major financial backer of both projects. The Cunningham Iron Works held both construction contracts at Water Street and at the Water Company.

The total cost of the Big Shop, to be paid by the shareholders, was $22,000. All of the shareholders, except J.H. Andrews, gave their notes to the Holliston Savings Bank, which advanced a loan for the Water Street construction project.

The grand opening of the new factory was heralded by a well-attended party in November of 1891. Over 150 couples danced on the makeshift third floor ballroom to the melodic tunes provided by Allen’s Orchestra of Natick. The Holliston Brass Band also made an appearance, and O.L. Cutting catered the affair. Hopes ran high that good fortune in the form of a shoe manufacturer would soon arrive at Water Street.

Soon, the I.A. Beals Shoe Company of Brockton accepted the attractive offer to transfer their operation to Holliston. Fifty families were expected to make the move also, along with many single workers who would be in need of housing, which was seen as an opportunity for parties with rooms to let.

The Beals Company arrived on December 1, 1891. Manufacturing began in earnest and with optimism, and many previously idle shoe shop workers of Holliston found gainful employment once again. Before long, I.A. Beals encountered some problems they had not anticipated. Conducting business in Holliston incurred higher costs than elsewhere. Despite the good intentions of Holliston to lessen the threat of fire by building a water system in part to provide improved fire protection, the specter of fire reared its ugly head once more. Though not with the usual show of flames, this time a fire of another sort hit the treasury of the I.A. Beals Company.



Whereas there has been considerable criticism on account of interest not being paid to the subscribers of said association, I wish to state, that I have paid the interest on the total cost of building to the trustees of said Association. I understand from one of the trustees, that there is $1200 or more they are unable to collect, as yet, from the subscribers, and the interest I paid was used to pay this deficit of $1200 or more. I wish also to state, that our company is paying $1100 more per year for insurance than we did in Brockton, on account of the raise of 25% in the insurance rates. This is what we pay for the privilege of doing business in Holliston.

Fred O. Sterling, I.A. Beals, Co.

The Beals Company remained in Holliston only 18 months, and they returned, lock, stock and barrel, to Brockton, long before a reasonable return had been seen by the investors. The major shareholders fared better than the smaller, many who had been attracted by visions of a quick profit earned from the investment of a lifetime’s savings. Another victim of the downfall of the Water Street Big Shop was the Holliston Savings Bank, a direct result, some said, of the failure of the factory’s bond issue.

Tenants were housed at the Water Street shop from time to time during the remainder of the 1890s. The next occupant there was the Eaton & Stephens Mfg. Co. The trustees of the Holliston Shoe Company, the holders of the deed to the property, opened an agreement with the Eaton & Stephens and other shoe manufacturing concerns to consolidate all entities into one company and therefore dissolve the Holliston Shoe Company, an endeavor as complicated as it appears.

There was an agreement to convey all the real estate to Eaton & Stephens, and in return, 220 shares of stock in the newly formed company would be delivered to J.H. Andrews, to hold on behalf of all the interested parties of the Holliston Shoe Company. Alas, the stock was not delivered, for bad times suddenly visited the Eaton & Stephens Mfg. Co., before the agreement could be finalized. Again the shareholders in the Water Street Big Shop saw a deal fall through. The case was taken to court in order to have the Holliston Shoe Company declared a creditor of the Eaton & Stephens Mfg. Co., in an attempt to recoup some of the loss. The court’s verdict stated that after perusing the evidence, there was no contract shown to exist, only an unwritten agreement. Since the deal was not finalized, the court ruled there was no breach of contract that would entitle them to be creditors of the Eaton & Stephens Mfg. Co. The case as appealed and consequently the Big Shop on Water Street remained vacant and in limbo for several years.

Tenants were few at Water Street after the court decision detoured another attempt by the Holliston Shoe Company to recoup funds for the shareholders. A fruit syrup manufacturer was housed there for a brief time, but there were no big deals on the horizon. In 1898 the building was vacant and remained so until Arthur A. Williams, after a most unfortunate fire at his factory in Cochituate, made the move to the spacious factory building on Water Street. He had been encouraged to look at the Holliston site by John Clancy, Holliston’s most prominent manufacturer of shoes at the time. Clancy, realizing he was nearing the end of his work, wanted very much to bequeath the shoe workers of Holliston to a worthy manufacturer. Williams soon expanded the facility with an additional building on the west side of the street and connected the two buildings with a much admired tunnel (built to avoid the unpleasant aspects of weather, etc., and some rumored, to keep new products under wraps).

The Goodwill Shoe Company was the answer to prayers so long awaited. Providing steady employment in a stable economic environment, Williams had one of the longest and most successful business records in Holliston history and became Holliston’s first “moneyed man” of the twentieth century.

Text supplied by Holliston Town Historian, Joanne Hulbert,

and is an excerpt from her book,

Holliston, A Good Town: Penebscot Press, 2000


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One Response to “Shoe making town”

  1. Velo Babble says:

    Makes me want to check out Holliston.

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