July 11, 2009

History of the Shoe Factory

Note: This early history of Sikeston's International Shoe Co came to us from an undated newspaper article. Not only are we unable to obtain the date of publication, we cannot even identity the newspaper. Hopefully, one of you who read this history can provide the source of this story.

History of the Shoe Factory

by Robert Vaughan

One of the biggest local stories to come out of 1975 was the closing of the Shoe Factory. The Shoe Factory was an important part of Sikeston's economy for more than fifty years, and no commentary on Sikeston's history would be complete without a look at how it all got started.
On March 6, 1923, D.B. Smith, manager of the International Shoe Factory in Cape Girardeau, and representing the factory headquarters, made a proposal to the Sikeston Chamber of Commerce.

"We will build a shoe factory in Sikeston employing about 600 people and expending for wages within ten years the sum of $1,400,000 if the people of Sikeston will give $70,000 toward the building of the factory," Smith said.

Sikeston immediately accepted the offer, and began a scheme to raise the money. Fifty-five acres of land was bough, subdivided into town lots, streets and alleys, and sold to the public. The land was between Greer and Kathleen, running east from what is now South Main, to Pine Street. The lots were laid out in 50 by 120 foot plots, and sold for $300.00 each. In the words of the Chamber of Commerce, there was not "an undesirable spot in the entire tract".

One hundred and twenty four lots were sold the first day, and all were sold within a week. The last lot sold was bought by D.B. Smith, Superintendent of the Cape Girardeau factory, who had requested that the 1st lot be reserved for him. That lot sale took place at 4:30 on the 15th of March, and when it happened all the mill whistles in the city were sounded in celebration.

On the 21st of March, officials of the shoe company met with J.L. Matthews, A.C. Sikes and L.M. Stallcup, and signed the contract. A payment of $10,000 was made to the company officials and the balance was held to be disbursed as the factory progressed.

The site was located for the factory, and the plans for the building were disclosed. The shoe factory promised to meet their initial promise or return the $70,000 to the city of Sikeston.

As construction began on the shoe factory, however, Sikeston faced another problem. The problem was one of housing shortage.

Even before the factory was secured, Sikeston was experiencing a period of rapid growth, and had far outstripped the housing supply. The plan the Chamber of Commerce used to raise the money then, was a sound one in every way, because there was an urgent need for new homes.

A small problem developed however. The land which had been purchased and divided into lots was currently under cultivation. The farmer who was renting the land wanted to wait until his crop was in before he relinquished it. Finally the decision was made to charge each lot holder two dollars more, and thus provide the farmer with compensation for his crops. The property owners agreed, the farmer agreed, and that was done.

It had been the intention of the development to leave a large area open in the center of the project for a park. But the demand for new housing was so great that all the land was used and the projected park never developed.

Sikeston was blessed with some far-sighted men and though "city engineering" was practically an unheard of program, a city planner was invited from Houston, Texas to discuss the growth of the town. The city planner was C.D. Coghlan, and he advised Sikeston to avoid an isolated factory district, and to charge reasonable rental rates to the factory employees who arrived.

Construction of new houses kept pace with the construction of the shoe factory, and on December 21, 1923, the Shoe Factory held its formal opening. Here is the way it was reported in the December 27, issue of THE SIKESTON HERALD.

"A crowd estimated at 3000 people attended the formal opening of the International Shoe Factory at Sikeston last Friday evening. Although many roads were exceedingly muddy, due to the two weeks' rain previous to Friday evening, there were many people present from neighboring towns, almost a hundred coming from Cape Girardeau alone.

Seats had been arranged on the first floor of the building, where no machinery had as yet been placed, and it was here that the other features of the evening were held. In the center of the large room was a refreshment booth, where soft drinks nd sandwiches were served. Music was furnished by the Cape Girardeau Municipal Band and an eight-piece orchestra from Memphis.

In an address delivered by Atty. R.E. Bailey, the factory was formally presented to the International Shoe Company by the citizens of Sikeston and vicinity, who had conributed $70,000 in order to get the factory located here. R.E. Blake, of St. Louis, who had come to Sikeston as a representative of F.C. Rand, president of the International Shoe Company, rsponded to Mr. Bailey's address and thanked the people of Sikeston for their enterprise and evidence of cooperation.

After these addresses were made many indulged in dancing for the remainder of the evening.

Preceeding the program at the shoe factory, Dave Smith, general superintendent of the Cape Girardeau and Sikeston factories, gave a chicken supper at the Hotel Marshall for eighty employees of the Cape Girardeau factory, including the Cape Band.

There are now about 150 people employed at the factory of which W.H. Huters is local superintendent. About 25 employees are to be added each week. The present payroll is approximately $3200 each week. It will probably be midsummer or later before the maximum number of 800 are employed at the factory.

The affair Friday evening was in charge of the Lions Club of Sikeston, the members and other enterprising citizens of the town providing the funds necessary for meeting the expenses of the evening.

No comments:

Post a Comment