HALLOWELL 250th: Memories of the Hallowell Shoe Company 1934-1955

A short version of this narrative as published in the Kennbec Journal on April 21, 2012 is available here: Hallowell 250th: Shoe shop office job became career. We bring you the full version.

Memories of the Hallowell Shoe Company 1934 – 1955, Formerly Johnson Brothers Shoe Factory


Being a young teenager in 1942, who was eager to work and needed to earn money, I looked for a job. As WW II had started December 7, 1941, young boys who turned 18 years of age were required to sign up for the draft. Many of the younger boys did not wait to be drafted but left high school and enlisted. Those who stayed to graduate enlisted soon after graduation.

As there were few automobiles, and gasoline was rationed, those who worked had to walk or take the bus. There were not TVs, computers, e-mail, or tweeter, etc., everything had to be done the hard way.

As a freshman in the summer of 1942, I took care of two children of Maude and Elmer Staples, who lived on Warren Street in Hallowell at the time. I lived with my grandfather and grandmother on the Outlet Road across the road from what is known now as Maple Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast. I rode my bicycle to and from these two locations, rain or shine. As Maude had to get the 7 am bus to her work in Augusta, I had to be there at 6 am. I worked there until 6 pm Monday through Friday.

I paid $38.00 for my bicycle which I earned picking juniper berries for the war effort. I received ten cents for every pound I picked. As the berries were very light it took a lot of them to make a pound.

In November 1942 we moved to Second Street in Hallowell. During the summer of 1942, prior to entering Hallowell High School as a sophomore, I worked at the Augusta State Hospital. I took the bus to Augusta morning and night. I walked from Water Street in Augusta all the way to work there.

In the summer of 1944, I applied for a job at the Hallowell Shoe Factory. I was hired to work for Eddie Porter, who was the floor boss of the cutting and stitching room at the brick factory which is now known as the Cotton Mill Apartments. At one time it was called the Hy Style Shoe Factory. I understand the Hallowell Shoe Company only leased the first two floors. Eddie Porter was a very nice man to work for. My job was cementing “platform” soles. Even on school vacations, he would find me a small job to do. Even on Saturday mornings, he would let Dick McGuire and I go in and cement soles. We were the only two in the factory.

The second floor was used to store all the leather used at the other factory. I remember going up to the second floor and seeing huge piles of leather piled nearly to the ceiling.

Now, the Hallowell Shoe Company office comes into my life. This factory was located at the corner of Second and Central Streets across form the Hubbard Free Library and Rialto Theater on the east side of Second Street. The factory was owned by Samuel Klevens, his sister Mildred and her husband Samuel Sapers. He was the leather buyer and traveled the world to buy leather sometimes as for away as Australia. Mr. Klevens son Arthur also worked there. Samuel Freedman was the Superintendant. His brother, George also worker there as part of management.

During the summer of 1945, prior to my senior year in high school, I went back to work for Eddie Porter at the brick factory stitching “platform” soles. We had to put to soles together with leather stitching at a stitching machine on the bottom floor. I looked out a building that used to be Clements Pool Parlor and is now an antique store, Lux. There was a skill to this job, but I don’t think I ever mastered it. I believe this was “Piece Work” and believe me some of these ladies were good at it. I would be sitting there with one packet of soles and they would do five to my one.

Midway through the summer of 1945, my very good friend Bertha Bradbury, who was already working at the office at Second and Central Streets, heard they needed someone to assist the billing clerk, Annette Bourassa. The factory was booming at the time which often happened depending on the season. I applied for the job and worked as the assistant billing clerk until my senior year started in September 1945. The office was on the southeast corner of the fifth floor looking down on Second Street. Morning , noon and night we climbed those stairs (no elevator). The time clock was located on the second floor.

Before starting my senior year, Mrs. Sapers said I could come back to work anytime. After starting my senior year (1945-46) I filled every minute and every day with school activities. I played sports, worked on our yearbook (Venture) and took part in the Hockey Pokey Fair which consisted of a play, a minstrel show and Saturday night prom. All these activities took place in the City Hall.

As I had all the credits to graduate and a free period, I took a manual training course which was located in an old carriage house near the corner of Middle and Central Streets. The course was taught by a Mr. Allen. My project was a “Knick-Knack” shelf and a wooden lamp.

In April 1946, I talked with Mrs. Saper about going back to work after school from 2 pm to 5 pm. I returned to the same job assisting the billing clerk. As graduation was approaching, Mrs. Saper asked me to stay with the company. In the meantime I had taken a State of Maine test to work for the State. I was interviewed for a position but it meant I would have to take the local bus to Augusta day and night. At the bus stops in Hallowell I used to see crowds of people waiting for the bus in all kinds of weather. The bus stopped at two places northbound near Hayes Bakery and the Cash Market opposite the bank. The fare was 10 cents. The bus went all the way to Edwards Mill. Therefore I decided to remain with the Hallowell Shoe Company. As I lived four houses north of the post office, a 5 minute walk took me to work, I was able to go home for lunch and no waiting for the bus and no fare.

After graduation I started as full time billing clerk because Annette was leaving to get married. I was promoted to head billing clerk and I worked alone. My salary was 0.87 cents per hour, later increased to one dollar to where my weekly pay was $38.00. I had 10 cents per week deducted for Savings Stamps. At that time I thought I was rich.

About this time the company moved the office to the ground floor at the southeast corner. My office looked out on the library. The office was divided into glassed in cubicles, one for each department. From my desk I could look around and see the whole office.

Ruth Watters, the secretary, and billing clerk (me) shared the same office. The teletype machine was located in this office too. Mr. Robert Hussey, the office manage, and his assistant Ruth Choate also shared an office. I disliked the teletype machine because when the signal came in, one of us had to jump up and get the message. If any of the managers heard the signal, they would come running thinking it might be a large shoe order.

The secretary, Ruth Watters, worked 7 am to 4 pm. It was around 4 pm that the manager wanted to have a letter written so I would take the dictation and type the letter. As I was alone, the teletype would start and I had to attend that. Many nights it would be 6 pm before I could leave (no overtime). The place was dark and quiet at this time. I still had to climb the stairs to punch the time clock. I used to think there could be a big rat waiting. Occasionally we did see a few. When I climbed the stairs I always stomped hard to scare them away.

My day started at 8 am. Every day on my way to work, I had to stop at the post office to pick up the company mail. The post office clerk would have it already for me packed in an beat-up old athletic bag. At night on my way home I dropped off the company mail in that old bag.

After 8 am, shoe orders would be placed on my desk. There were bundles of tags with elastics around them with bills of lading attached. These told me how many, the style, the sizes and the store they were being shipped to. It was my job to type all this information on bills sent to the stores. It was also my job to total each bill which had been figured on a manual adding machine. Then I passed the totals on to Ruth Choate to verify them. Some orders were as much as 48 cases or more. Sometimes these bundles of tags reached across my desk which was huge and made of oak.

On the left side of this desk were three drawers. On the right side a door which held a manual typewriter. Before I could do any typing, I had to lift it to my level. Then I had to turn to my right to type. It was most uncomfortable.

The switchboard operator, Margaret Morrisey, was at the entrance to all the offices. There was the Payroll Department, headed by Helen Farrington. Her assistants were Bertha Bradbury, Myrtle Farrington, Nettie Trip, Norma Brown and several other girls who worked there when the workload became heavier.

The tag department was in another office. Those who worked there were Elizabeth Burns Mitten, Nina Jordan, Ruth Arbour Tibbetts and Gertrude Brown. This office was small so only two or three at a time could work there.

We had a fulltime shoe designer. His name was Sam McDonald. He had a room at the home of Alice Bachelder on Second Street right next to the library. He didn’t have far to go to his work.

The loading dock workers were Chuck Farrington, his brother Oscar and Henry Barton. Cases of shoes were loaded into a large white panel truck and the backed up to the Hallowell R. R. platform where they were unloaded. Some smaller cases were shipped through the Hallowell Post Office.

We had a 15 minute break morning and afternoon in the office that I never took. There was a small coatroom for those who smoked. During the busy seasons management hired someone to help me. Her name was Ellen Jackson. Then later, Jeri Brown came to help me. We became live-long friends. She was part of my wedding in 1949. Occasionally, Jeri and I would take turns working at the brick factory to work two or three days when needed.

Last but not least was the Christmas Party which all factory workers looked forward to. this party was given by management. It was the highlight of the year, held at Hallowell City Hall from 2 pm to 6 pm and then later on the second floor of the brick factory. A box lunch plus drinks were given by management and also a live band for dancing. Many brought their own ”Happy Juice”. It was time to let their hair down and believe me, they were ready to party. The ladies were dressed in their very best finery for the occasion. By the end of the day it was more than City Marshal Luther Gray and his fellow patrolman Percy Lee could handle.

A few office staff would stop in, to mingle with the crowd, for a few minutes.

Around 11 am the office staff held their Christmas party with food and drinks furnished by management.

According to the book, Historic Hallowell (1962), in 1953 the big machinery was moved to the brick factory, which is now the Cotton Mill Apartments. At that time the wooden factory on Second Street was vacated. In 1955 this building was torn down due to unsafe conditions.

The Hallowell Shoe Company continued on after they constructed a new one floor factory on the Whitten Road in Augusta. This building was later torn down and a Hannaford “Shop & Save” was built on the same spot. Many employees of Hallowell Shoe Company followed to work there.

A LOOK BACK: An old Hallowell shoe company factory is seen in this undated photo. The wooden factory was on the corner of Second and Central streets and torn down in the 1950s. - Photo courtesy of Arthur Moore