NH Bureau of Labor Report on Milton’s Shoe Industry – 1896

By Muriel Bristol | January 1, 2022

The NH Bureau of Labor reported in 1896 on their sense of the history of shoe manufacturing in Milton.

The Bureau’s report covered first an initial phase of Milton shoe manufacturing, in which the shoe manufacturers caused shoe pieces to be cut from tanned leather to be assembled later into finished shoes by others – shoemakers – on a piecework basis. The assembling shoemakers worked either separately in their own homes or else in small groups in local shoe shops. (Period maps show buildings labeled “S.S.” for “Shoe Shop,” as distinct from those labeled “S.H.” for “School House”). This phase peaked with military production for the American Civil War.

Pearl Davis - NGA - Shoemaker's BenchMost of their assembly work would have been done by hand at a shoemaker’s bench, perhaps assisted in some tasks by simple treadle-driven machinery. Shoemakers of this period were often quite well informed, because groups of them might pay to have a “lector” read aloud to them from newspapers, magazines or books while they worked.

MILTON. Among the early manufacturers of shoes in this town were John E. Goodwin & Co., at West Milton, who gave employment to 25 or 30 hands in cutting and putting up stock, to be fitted and bottomed by the people of the town; H.V. & Eli Wentworth, who carried on a large business at South Milton for several years, until burned out; and D. & S. Washburn, L. Berry and J. Layward [Sayward], who carried on a successful business at various times at Three Ponds, the latter continuing until burned out in 1864 (NH Bureau of Labor, 1896).

John E. and Charles H. Goodwin ran their shoe manufactory in the Goodwinville section of West Milton from the mid to late 1840s until John E. Goodwin moved the business to Dover, NH, in or after 1863. (His Dover, NH, factory would burn in a fire in 1870).

Milton - 1856 (Detail) - Goodwin, JE-CHJohn Colbath (1828-1915) moved to Goodwinville in West Milton in 1847 to work with the Goodwins, which he did until 1853. He resided with Charles H. Goodwin in 1850. Harrison Kimball (1817-1855) was associated with the Goodwins in shoe manufacturing. He resided next door with Elder J.T.G. Colby. Alvah Wentworth (1831-1874) and Ira W. Nute (1831-1896) were associated with the Goodwins in shoe manufacturing too. They resided next door with Goodwin brother Daniel B. Goodwin.

Milton - 1871 (Detail) - WentworthBrothers Hiram V. and Eli Wentworth started a shoe manufactory at South Milton in the mid to late 1840s. John C. Plumer (1829-1902) was a resident associate of Eli Wentworth in 1850. Sen. Eli Wentworth received an army commission in 1861 and would die in Mississippi in 1863. Hiram V. Wentworth continued to run the shoe manufactory until it burned down in 1875.

Brothers Daniel and Samuel Washburn came to Milton Three Ponds from Natick, MA, circa 1849, and there ran a shoe manufactory until the mid 1850s, when they returned to their native Natick, MA.

In addition to those mentioned in the retrospective portion of the 1896 report, Francis D. Horn (1815-1863) and James R. Horn (b. c1826), both of Plummer’s Ridge, Ira S. Davis (1812-1889), and Daniel P. Warren (1815-1881), were all identified also in the Seventh (1850) Federal Census as being Milton shoe manufacturers, rather than shoemakers.

Lewis N. Berry was already a shoemaker when he came to Milton Three Ponds in the mid to late 1850s. He became a shoe manufacturer there from at least 1860 until his death in June 1863.

Joseph Sayward ran his shoe manufactory at Milton Three Ponds from the mid to late 1850s until it burned down in 1864. (At which point he became instead a merchant).

The Bureau’s report covered next a more machine-driven phase or style of production, which arrived here in the mid 188os. These new shoe manufactories used Milton’s rivers to power their machinery, backed up by supplementary steam power when river levels were low. (See also Milton Water Power in 1885). Most of these firms had their principal shoe manufactories elsewhere, often in Massachusetts cities, and their Milton operations were merely for overflow or supplementary operations.

In 1884 an organization composed of citizens of the town erected a shoe factory 160 x 40 and four stories high, with other accessories, at Milton, at a cost of $12,000, which was leased to Burley & Usher in 1885, who were afterwards succeeded by N.B. Thayer & Co., the present occupants. Misses’ and children’s kid and Dongola spring heel slippers are manufactured, and employment is given to 100 or more hands. Steam and water are used for power, and the firm is not exempt from taxation (NH Bureau of Labor, 1896).

The firm of Burley & Usher occupied the subsidized shoe manufactory building at Milton Three Ponds from 1885 to 1893.

Milton - 1892 (Detail) - Burley-UsherN.B. Thayer & Co. took over the shoe factory building which had formerly been occupied by Burley & Usher. They would be active there between 1894 and 1909.

BG941024 - NB ThayerMeanwhile, Varney & Lane ran briefly a subsidized shoe manufactory in the old Brierley felt mill at Milton Mills from 1888 to 1890.

In 1888 Varney & Lane began the manufacture of shoes in the factory originally built and occupied as a felt mill by E. Brierly & Son, at Milton Mills (110 x 50 and four stories high, and erected in 1873 at a cost of $13,000), and did a successful business for some time. They were succeeded by the Sale [Gale] Shoe Manufacturing company of Haverhill in 1895, who are in the manufacture of women’s kid and Dongola button boots, Oxford ties and misses’ spring heel slippers, and give employment to 75 or more hands. Water and steam are for power, and the firm is not exempt from taxation (NH Bureau of Labor, 1896).

Milton - 1892 (Detail) - Varney-LaneVarney & Lane’s Milton Mills operation ended in a contentious shoe strike. (See Milton Mills Shoe Strike of 1889).

SJ891122 - CW VarneyVarney & Lane were replaced in the Brierley mill building by the Gale Shoe Manufacturing Co. from 1890-1904.

BG970531 - Gale ShoeSome $60,000 capital is invested in the shoe business in Milton. Two hundred people, more or less, are employed, to whom are paid nearly $50,000 annually in wages, and the yearly output is valued at $150,000 (NH Bureau of Labor, 1896).

BG091028 - Andrews WasgattAnd, after the publication of the NH Bureau of Labor’s 1896 report, the Andrews Wasgatt Co. took over from the Gale Shoe Manufacturing Co., at the old Brierley Mill in Milton Mills, from 1904 to 1914, and the Timson Shoe Co., from 1915 to 1918.


Find a Grave. (2017, June 19). John Colbath. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/180530106/john-colbath

Find a Grave. (2022, November 30). Ira S. Davis. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/246074249/ira-s-davis

Find a Grave. (2016, March 14). Harrison Kimball. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/159450571/harrison-kimball

Find a Grave. (2015, November 8). Ira Wallace Nute. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/154759010/ira-wallace-nute

Find a Grave. (2022, April 6). Daniel P. Warren. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/238563886/daniel-p-warren

Find a Grave. (2022, April 28). Alvah Wentworth. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/239295490/alvah-wentworth

National Gallery of Art. (2022). Shoemaker’s Bench. Retrieved from www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.20290.html

NH Bureau of Labor. (1896). Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=dEQbAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA23

Author: Muriel Bristol

"Lady drinking tea"

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