by Susan Woodrow
The “Goodwill Shoe” complex, as Holliston’s old-timers still call it, was nominated by Christina Lingham. These five buildings, comprising 55,000 square feet, have a long and vibrant history of fostering economic creativity and drive in Holliston.
During the heyday of the shoe factory, the Williams Shoe Company d.b.a. Goodwill Shoes invented the steel-toed safety shoe. Williams was considered a humanitarian, winning a medal from the National Association of Manufacturers for preventing countless crippling industrial accidents. His Safety First Shoe Company employed thousands of people for over fifty years, and Williams' fortune has been passed forward to today in a foundation. http://www.aawfoundation.org/history.php
There are handwritten notes and signatures all over the interiors of the buildings from the people who worked there. The penmanship is sometimes elegant despite the uneven surface (ink applied directly to the wooden beams where the supervisor wouldn't see it).
The complex was constructed starting in 1895 with the main building
being built as a Maple Syrup factory. The long flat roofed building was
added in 1906, the year the Arthur Ashley Williams Shoe factory
expanded its operations.
Maps of the period show the "house" as the
Holliston Savings Bank. The walk-in vault and two large safes in the
basement bear witness to this use, as well as the logic of locating
three hundred paychecks across the street.
Handcarts were wheeled through the tunnels, which connected all the
main buildings, even running under the street. The basement still
contains 17,000 "shoe lasts," wooden models of feet, in a huge pile.
(The current Water Street Mill owner, Chris Carey, would be glad to
give them to anyone who will come and take them away.)
From the late fifties through the mid-nineties, the building repeatedly changed owners and functions. Potential real estate developers suggested alternative uses for the property: board all six hundred windows and operate a heated self-storage facility, demolish the structures to sell off the timbers and flooring, or sell the land for house lots for a one-time profit.
Fortunately, another vision has prevailed in the Water Street Mill and the Holliston Mill.
Today, tenants bring an overall benefit to the town much greater than a few additional house lots would have. New commerce provides jobs, which in turn provide revenue to the merchants of the town. The building at #23 has housed the Holliston Pantry Shelf since the Water Street Mill took it over. The Holliston Mill is also home to a thriving group of artists who hold periodic open studios for the community.
The “Goodwill Shoe” complex has again become an incubator for small and start-up businesses. Once established in Holliston, businesses are likely to remain in town, even as they outgrow their space. People tend to get invested in a community and, as many of us will agree, a town like ours is easy to grow attached to.