Kimball Brothers Shoe Factory, Manchester New Hampshire

Date added: July 12, 2022 Categories: New Hampshire Industrial
Looking west at the rear of the factory (1984)

Until the construction of the Kimball Shoe Factory, shoemaking in Manchester was a cottage industry, and textiles dominated the local economy. Though textiles remained the primary industry through the Depression, within the space of a decade, shoe manufacturing rose to prominence. By 1900 seven companies employed 2,000 people. Ten years later, with over 7,700 people working in the industry, the city claimed a national rank of fourth in shoe production and a New England rank of second, Following World War I and the reintroduction of English imports, all of Manchester's shoe companies experienced a major decline in demand. In an attempt to improve the skills of the local labor market, the Manchester Shoe and Leather Continuation School opened, offering training programs. Though the shoe industry was hit hard by the Depresssion a few years later, it recovered to a far greater degree than the textile industry and began to move into the vacant mills in the Amoskeag mill yard where a small number remain today.

The Kimball Factory was built in 1885 by a local group of businessmen known as the Manchester Shoe Manufacturing Company. Encouraged by the Board of Trade who wished to diversify the city's economic base, and capitalized at $35,000, the investors erected the north (original) wing of the building and immediately leased it to the Kimball brothers, shoe manufacturers from Lynn, Massachusetts. Two hundred operatives were employed to produce women's shoes. In 1890 the factory more than doubled in size with construction of a large west wing and handsome bell/stair tower. An additional 250 were employed, and the company was soon producing 700,000 pairs of shoes annually. A final addition in 1900 was made when the company was at the height of its success.

Oliver, Nelson and Benjamin Kimball acquired their experience in shoe manufacturing in Lynn, the shoe capital of the country. Each had worked variously for several companies in Lynn before founding their own business in 1878. The Kimball Brothers Shoe Company was a minor one in Lynn and it is likely that they were attracted to Manchester for its vast labor force and city officials anxious to lure new businesses. Their inventory and equipment in Lynn were destroyed by the city's large fire in 1889, and they apparently moved the base of their production to Manchester at that time when they built the second of the two major additions to the factory.

During the forty-three years the Kimball Factory was owned by the Kimball family, the owners remained Massachusetts residents. Though by the early twentieth century the company's importance had been eclipsed by larger shoe concerns which, being locally owned, were promoted by the city, the Kimball Shoe Company remained the pioneer in Manchester's shoe industry. In 1929 the factory was sold to Benjamin E. Cole, an Andover (Mass.) resident who continued to produce shoes. After a period of three years, the building was again sold to Louis H. Salvage, also a Massachusetts resident, who manufactured shoes at this location until the mid-1970s. In 1970 Salvage leased a portion of the building to the Mighty-Mac Manufacturing Company, makers of men's clothing, who remained here until 1984. By the time Salvage vacated the building, the Kimball Shoe Factory had been the site of shoe production for ninety years, longer than any other factory in Manchester.

The building was purchased in the 1980s and converted into apartment units.

The Kimball Shoe Factory was the prototype for shoe factories subsequently constructed in Manchester. Erected in three stages between 1885 and 1990, the four-story building was built by the locally distinguished contractor Head & Dowst who were later commissioned to build other shoe factories. In addition to mill construction, Head & Dowst built many of Manchester's public buildings, including the Highland, Straw, Beech Street, Wilson, Hallsville and Central High Schools. Other works of theirs included the original building for Saint Anselm's College, the Courthouse in Laconia, and the Hillsborough County Almshouse and Prison in Goffstown. Their designs for the shoe factories, most of which were built without an architect, were predictably similar and followed the standard begun by the Kimball Shoe Factory: flushed brick walls, a slightly pitched roof with exposed rafters, multi-pane sash set between arched masonry heads and granite sills, and a five-story stair tower of varying designs, but generally employing full-height recessed bays and a steep hip roof clad with slate. The Kimball Factory was the only building to have an open belfry capping the tower, since removed. In addition to the Kimball Factory, remaining shoe factories include the Hoyt Shoe Factory on Lincoln Street (1892-5), the Craft & Green Factory on West Hancock Street (1891), and the Eaton Heights Shoe Factory on Page Street (1896). The fifth brick shoe factory of that decade, the Redman & Eaton Factory (1896) which was adjacent to the Crafts & Green building, is no longer standing. Each factory was added onto over the years as the industry prospered, and all but the Hoyt and Eaton Heights buildings have lost their towers.