Abandoned shoe factory in Ohio

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio
Date added: June 25, 2023 Categories:
Facade detail looking northeast (2008)

The Selby Shoe Company initially began as the Drew-Selby Company and was a partnership between Irving Drew and George Selby. They made women's fine welt shoes in Portsmouth, Ohio. By 1877, the partners parted ways and Selby established his own company in Portsmouth. Drew continued manufacturing shoes in Portsmouth until 1937, when the company moved to Lancaster, Ohio. Selby's fledgling company prospered, eventually constructing a large, main factory in the center of Portsmouth that included several buildings (now demolished). An additional factory was built in nearby Ashland, Kentucky in 1909.

In order to keep pace with increased demand for its shoes, the Selby Shoe Company started a branch factory in Ironton. The company began operations in Ironton in August 1921 and it first shows up in the Ironton city directory in 1922. The rented factory was located on N. 2nd Street. Edgar N. Meck was the manager of the plant. In 1924, Selby Shoe Co. expanded into the former Excelsior Shoe Co. building, also on N. 2nd Street. The last address given for Selby Shoe before moving to S. 3rd is 324.N. 2nd. There are no longer any factory buildings in the two or three hundred blocks of N. Second.

Desiring a larger, more modern facility, the company decided to build a new plant after only a few short years. Construction on the new facility began in October 1925. The state-of-the-art facility on South Third was completed in June 1926. That year, the city directory lists the company as "manufacturers of ladies fine shoes." The operation of the Selby Shoe Company was still very much a family affair in 1926, with five of the eight company officers having the last name of Selby. Edgar N. Meck continued to be the manager of the Ironton plant.

The completion of Selby Shoe's new Ironton factory was met with great fanfare. The newspapers reported on opening activities for several days, a public open house was held, and a special Selby Industrial Edition of the Ironton Sunday Tribune was printed. Prior to the public open house, executives of the Selby Shoe Company inspected the new facility. Executives and company officers arrived via motor cavalcade from Portsmouth and Ashland. The papers reported on the route the procession would take from each respective city to arrive at the S. Third Street factory. Following inspection of the new plant, a dinner was held at the Marting Hotel. Speakers at the dinner included Meck, Ironton mayor, J. Harry Moulton, George Selby, chairman of the board, and John J. Gillespie of the United Shoe Machinery Corporation in Boston.

In a published letter to the community expressing his gratitude for Ironton's generosity and reception, George Selby stated that the company had earned over $2 million in 1902 and in 1925 had earned over $9 million with a payroll of $3,014,599. Leaders of the Selby Shoe Company were committed to the idea of contributing to the community's economy. Selby summarized by stating, "From this some idea may be gained as to what the new plant may eventually mean to the city of Ironton." (Ironton Sunday Tribune)

The public open house was held on Tuesday, July 6th during the day. In an effort to increase attendance, stores in Ironton were encouraged to close during the afternoon. The Lions Club organized a reception for company officials in conjunction with the open house and an evening dinner at the Marting Hotel for Selby officials and invited guests.

The Ironton factory had a production capacity of 500 pairs of shoes per day when the new facility opened in 1926. The new plant was designed for production of 2500 pairs per day, after reaching its full capacity. It would also accommodate 1200 employees, including both men and women. Similar to the Ashland plant, women were employed as cutters.

Edgar Meck presided over the Ironton plant until 1934 when he was replaced by Hugh A. MacAdam. MacAdam was the manager until 1938. February 1938 saw the factory producing a record number of shoes that month at 3,200 pairs daily. (Story of the Glorious Past One Hundred Years, p.44)

When constructed, the Selby Shoe building was considered "a monument to the progressive spirit" of the company and that "to Ironton the company has given one of the most modern factory buildings in the tri-state region." (Ironton Sunday Tribune) The Selby Shoe Company prided itself on its personal relationship with all its employees and the accessibility of the management staff. The Ironton Sunday Tribune feature mentions that the building "is of admirable construction for its purpose and its window space gives practically 80 percent sunlight to workers within the walls." It goes on to discuss temperature and humidity control in the building as having the dual purpose of making the shoe leather easier to work with and providing pure air for the employees. Within the Tribune feature is a commemorative editorial from the Chamber of Commerce, which also recognized accommodation of the employees by stating, "Their new building is not only beautiful in architecture and design, but it is located and constructed with such careful thought that it has been made a model for the comfort and welfare of the employee."

Although they had built a thoroughly modern factory, the Selby Shoe Company vacated the building by 1940. Despite departing the Ironton factory, Selby Shoe was still in business. The company had an affiliate company, Feature Shoes Limited, in the 1930s and also had diversified slightly by being the exclusive international distributor of the Brannock Device, a foot measuring tool invented in the 1920s. In 1957, the United States Shoe Company, of Cincinnati, acquired the brand name rights of Selby Shoe.

The Selby building remained vacant until 1944 when Wilson Athletic Goods Manufacturing moved into it. Wilson, a Chicago based company, had purchased it in October 1943 and began the manufacture of sporting goods equipment. At this time the street address for the building changed from 1607 to 1603, its current number. Having purchased the Selby building during a period of expansion in the 1940s, when its number of factories located throughout the U.S. totaled fifteen, Wilson Athletic Goods remained in the building until 1984. From 1987 to 1997 Cabletron Systems made circuit boards in the facility. Currently the building is largely vacant, except for the first floor that is used primarily for storage.

After the departure of Selby Shoe, no other shoe manufacturers are listed again in the Ironton city directory. Previous to the arrival of Selby, the Excelsior Shoe Company was the longest-operating company manufacturing shoes in Ironton. It operated from 1908 to c.1920. Their factory was located on North Second and is no longer extant. The Portsmouth Shoe Company was listed in the city directory for only one year in 1910-1911. In the 1904-05 city directory, four shoemakers are listed. All appear to be small operations based in a shop and, in fact, one worked out of his home.

Building Description

The Selby Shoe Company Building is a five-story concrete structure. Although located within an older neighborhood, it is several blocks from downtown Ironton. Completed in 1926, it was designed in the Late Gothic Revival style. The building is T-shaped with a projected rear section. A garage to the rear of the main building is original.

The Selby Shoe Building is located on South Third Street near the intersection of Ellison. South Third is a busy street leading to and from the downtown. The immediate area is a mix of residential and commercial buildings, mostly constructed c. 1900. Across the street is the former Ketter Buggy Company building, a brick, two-story late 1800s industrial building. A c.1920 brick, one-story commercial building is also across the street at the Ellison intersection. Two late 20th-century commercial buildings are in the vicinity. To the north along S. Third Street are more commercial properties than to the south. To the south, directly behind the Selby Shoe factory, are houses predominantly constructed c.1900-1920. Most of the houses are frame and two-story.

The building is setback from the street farther than the adjacent housing stock. It has a grass lawn in the front, with several mature trees on the north end of the property. The property, on the sides and to the rear, has been paved with blacktop and surrounded with a chain link fence.

Constructed of reinforced poured concrete, the Selby Shoe Company Building has a smooth wall finish. The building is symmetrical with eleven bays containing a central projecting pavilion and five flanking bays. Each bay has a grouping of four windows. Embedded pilasters, or buttresses, are between each bay. The central pavilion contains the entrance to the building. The entry is covered by the original metal awning decorated with a Vitruvian wave pattern and an 'S' within a centered shield. The entrance is denoted by a segmental arch with keystone above the awning. Within the arch is a transom with multiple lights. The transom lights have been covered, but may be intact underneath. Above the arch the wall is of a coffered pattern that matches the pattern of the transom windows.

The pavilion is given further emphasis, by vertical bands of decorative ceramic tile within the flanking pilasters. The pavilion is topped by a staggered parapet, with small vertical bands of decorative tiles in the panels. The entrance is also framed by stepped pilasters that extend the height of the facade and rise above the roofline. Finials top these central pilasters. Alteration on the facade is mostly confined to the pavilion area, where the walls have been covered with vinyl siding. The entry doors and flanking windows are replacements, and the wall treatment in this space is a later alteration.

The pilasters at each end of the building also have the same ceramic tiles, as the central pilasters. The blue, green, and orange tile is in good condition and contributes to the building's aesthetics. It appears to be of high quality and likely came from an art pottery company popular during the era.

In the end bays of the facade and the first bay of the side elevations, there is a series of recessed Tudor arches above the windows. The arches are blind and provide relief to the flat wall surface. Four tiles, comprising a diamond pattern, are centered between the arch points. A row of dentils is just above the fifth story windows in the four bays framing the pavilion.

A ground-level bay on the facade has been enclosed with vinyl siding and a pedestrian and overhead garage doors installed.

The multi-light metal windows have an awning-type opening. The window pattern is the same on all elevations with the exception of how many windows are grouped together. The facade and first bay of the side elevations have four, while the remainder of the side elevations has three, and the rear elevation varies between three and four. Some windows have been covered, either on the interior or exterior, with insulation or drywall, but are still intact underneath any covering. Some windows have also been painted on the exterior. One section of windows has been removed, on the rear elevation at the third floor.

The side elevations are two bays deep and identical in appearance. A secondary entrance is at the rear corner. The original wood door with four lights is intact. A shed roof hood covers each door.

An original centered section extends eastward, from the rear of the building forming a T-shaped configuration. The extension is of the same height as the main block. It has a simpler window pattern comprised of bands of small rectangular lights. A loading dock is on the southern elevation. The six-story elevator shaft, with accompanying stairwell, is more clearly visible from the rear. Windows here are in a slightly different configuration, but still comprised of multiple, rectangular lights. A one-story, yellow brick boiler room extends off of the east elevation of the extension. It has soldier course lintels over the door and window openings and concrete sills under the windows. The walls are topped by a concrete cap at the roof line. A header course is approximately a foot below the roof cap. The window openings have been covered with plywood, and a garage door opening on the east elevation has been bricked-in. An original wood pedestrian door with four lights is present on the south elevation, as well as original garage doors with multiple lights.

The building, including the rear extensions, has a flat roof. The rooftop has a mechanical room, which is accessible from the interior on the fifth floor. A water tower is on top of the mechanical room.

An original two-car garage is at the rear of the property. It is constructed of rock-faced concrete block. It has one pedestrian door and two overhead garage doors. The roof is hipped and the rafter tails are exposed.

The entrance leads to a lobby, with stairs leading directly up to the second floor. Some of the lobby walls are beadboard. An original door from the landing into the main (second) floor is intact. The layout on each floor is essentially the same. It is open with mushroom columns down the center. Restrooms, employee break rooms, and office spaces are located in the rear extension. The floors and ceilings, like the walls, are also of reinforced poured concrete. The 1926 floor covering is a wood floor with a diagonal cut secured to two by six rafters. The wood floor is intact in a majority of spaces.

More recent office partitions were added to the north of the lobby on the second floor, and the rear section, on this floor, is more open than other floors allowing for storage and access to the loading dock. The east wall is brick and is perhaps a common wall with the adjacent boiler room. The third floor has also had some wall partitions added.

Three stairwells are present in the building: one at each end of the building and one in the T-extension. All three maintain their original metal handrails. The original elevator is also intact, including buttons on the second floor. Original sliding doors are present on some floors, as well.

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Facade (West) and South Elevations looking northeast (2008)
Facade (West) and South Elevations looking northeast (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Facade detail looking northeast (2008)
Facade detail looking northeast (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Facade detail looking northeast (2008)
Facade detail looking northeast (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Entry detail looking northeast (2008)
Entry detail looking northeast (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Facade tile detail looking northeast (2008)
Facade tile detail looking northeast (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Corner tile detail looking southeast (2008)
Corner tile detail looking southeast (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Facade tile detail looking east (2008)
Facade tile detail looking east (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Rear (East) Elevation looking northwest (2008)
Rear (East) Elevation looking northwest (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Rear (East) Elevation looking north (2008)
Rear (East) Elevation looking north (2008)

Selby Shoe Company Building, Ironton Ohio Rear (East) Elevation looking northwest (2008)
Rear (East) Elevation looking northwest (2008)