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Savoy Shoe Company, Gone but not Forgotten

Jul 31st, 2013 | By | Category: Features, Lead Article

This story originally appeared June 1, 2006 in the Chronicle.  It is part of the historical portrait series of Elizabethtown  being offered by the Elizabethtown Journal.

Shoes were to Elizabethtown what steel was to Pittsburgh.  In 1763, a cobbler, Frederick Zetty, purchased one of the first lots sold by Barnabas Hughes (just south of the square) and shoemaking came to the new town of Elizabeth.  From that early date, one or more shoemakers practiced their trade in Elizabethtown up until 1979 when the last shoe factory in town, the Beford Shoe Company, closed its doors.

In the 1750s, Pennsylvania assumed a leadership role in manufacturing leather in the English colonies.  Tanneries were producing supple leather as well as hard leather for shoemaking, saddlery, and harness-making.  In just a few years, Philadelphia, Lancaster, York and, yes, Elizabethtown were producing such a surplus of shoes that Pennsylvania supplied most of the shoes and tanned leather for the Southern colonies.

Muster rolls from the American Revolutionary War show that shoemakers Joseph Jones, Conrad Scheier and Peter Frederick lived in or around Elizabethtown.  Soldiers in the war did a lot of walking.  At one time or another nearly all the soldiers probably had sore feet from poorly fitting shoes, since most shoes were made with no distinction between the left and right foot. One veteran, Colonel Byrod, returned to Elizabethtown after the war and set up shop to continue his trade as shoemaker.  He was so well thought of in town that he was elected the first burgess (mayor).

As the town grew, so did the shoe business.  In 1809, George Wealand bought the Bear Tavern and 238 acres of land north of the square.  He decided to offer lots for sale along the east side of North Market Street from the Conoy Creek north for seven blocks.  Lot #2 was purchased by Samuel Baile, a shoemaker.

In the early 1800s, shoes were still made to the customer’s order.  The leather used by shoemakers like Peter Force and Leonard Negley, Jr. was purchased from Isaac Redsecker, who had a tannery on West High St.  His tannery did so much business that it was considered an industrial plant by 1850 and employed five men.

By 1860, Elizabethtown’s four shoemakers were not yet influenced by the developing factory system.  David Hornafius hired two men to help him produce 50 pair of boots and 250 pair of shoes for a yearly income of $750.

A new type businessman came to town in 1901, and he was enthralled with using machinery for mass production.  His name was A.S. Kreider, Sr.  He started a shoe factory in one of the old Buch buildings.  The factory initially had the capacity to make 200 pairs of shoes a day, but capacity was soon expanded to 400 pairs per day.

Demand escalated because shoes were sized by both length and width and the customer could buy shoes off the shelf at a shoe store.  Mr. Kreider constructed a large, state of the art factory at Washington and South Poplar Streets to increase capacity and by 1915, the new factory was producing 5,000 pairs of shoes daily.  The A.S. Kreider Shoe Company employed 450 people by the 1920s and had a weekly payroll of $10,000.

In 1920, W.A. Withers bought the old market house on South Poplar Street and in 1922, his factory was producing 1,000 pairs of baby shoes a day.  When W.A. Withers retired, the firm became the Lancaster Shoe Company, which eventually merged with Gerberich-Payne Shoes.

The shoe industry in Elizabethtown weathered the depression although business slowed down.  The Savoy Shoe factory was built on W. High Street, the Empire Shoe Company rented the top floor of the Kreider building, and the A.J. Beford Shoe Company occupied the former Lancaster Shoe Company factory.

The two major employers in Elizabethtown for decades, A.S. Kreider Shoe Company and Lancaster Shoes went out of business before 1960.  They could not compete with the cheap shoes being brought into the United States from foreign countries.  Milton S. Goldstein, president of Empire Shoe Company, went with a delegation from the Shoe and Leather Association to meet with President Nixon to see if the federal government would slow down the shoe imports.  The President made it clear that no measures would be taken to protect American shoe manufacturers.  Goldstein recalled, “He knew the industry was dead,” according to Richard MacMaster in “Elizabethtown:  The First Three Centuries”.  Empire Shoe Company went out of business in 1976.

Most of the gigantic steel mills are gone in Pittsburgh, and the assembly lines that mass produced shoes in Elizabethtown are gone as well.  The factory buildings constructed by the shoe industry are still there and in good condition.  They were constructed to last because after all people would always need shoes.  It was taken for granted that  people in Elizabethtown would always be manufacturing shoes in those buildings using more and more sophisticated equipment.  The mass produced shoe industry in Elizabethtown lasted 78 years, and its now been 26 years since the last pair was made.

Patsy and Lloyd Reed

The Elizabethtown Historical Society

Figure Caption:  The “Savoy Shoe Factory” sign is one of the last reminders of the main industry in Elizabethtown for decades.

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  1. It was my understanding, the my grandfather, Louis Charleroy, was at one time, the owner of the Savoy shoe factory. I have some old movie pictures (date back to early 1940′s) showing the factory and my grandfather. He owned the factory in the late 1930 to very early 1940′s.

  2. Just came upon this article about shoe manufacturing in Elizabethtown, PA. It was very interesting since my grandfather Louis Charleroy was the owner of the Savoy Shoe Factory. As I grew up I heard many stories about the factory. I have oftened wondered what happened to the building.

  3. That building is now and apartment complex !! Just today we found orginal shoe molds from when this was still a factory. They made the shoes around them. We will be taking tyem to the winters heritage house.

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