Shoe Factory Neighborhood

I can’t believe I missed this aerial photo of the old shoe factory plant I shot April 14, 1964, when I ran the piece on the site being the new home of the Isle of Capri Casino. You can clearly see the infamous jog in Main Street that will be straightened.

Jog provided challenge

Reader John Burciaga shared this story about the jog: My only brother, Joe, Jr., 9 years older, was quite adventurous as a youngster. He and a buddy used to race side by side from downtown Main St. to the shoe factory site, where the sharp “dogleg” zig-zags left-to-right. This was always late at night, being careful police cars were not around, or traffic from the opposite direction. He never got hurt but I recall he tore a door off–reminding me a bit of the movie Rebel Without A Cause and the great chase to see who would bail out of his auto first before the drop-off.

This undated wreck photo from the 60s probably wasn’t caused by the zig-zag. It happened north of the jog and the car was southbound. You can barely see a building in the background that says “Cafe and Tavern.” The 1969 City Directory didn’t list the full name of the establishment.

Windows were painted

This shot of the wreck from the other direction shows the heavy-duty power lines feeding into the shoe factory and the painted windows. The only reason I can think for painting the windows would be to diffuse the light coming through them so there wouldn’t be any glare inside.

Old building at bottom of Mill Street

This old building at the bottom of Mill Street and south of the shoe factory, was still there in the spring when I shot a freight train going by.

Fairway Market No. 2

Missourian photographer Fred Lynch ran a Frony photo of shoe factory workers on strike in 1962 in his blog Dec. 3, 2010. He identified a building in the background as being the Fairway Market No. 2.

It’s been a number of things in the intervening years. Oct. 20,2009, a sign on the front of the building said that it was NOW OPEN as Margarita Mama’s. I don’t know how long they lasted or if they are still open. The Missourian had a number of stories detailing problems with the establishment’s liquor license.

I did see a notice that a tax lien against the property was discharged Dec. 10 of this year.

Red Star Baptist Church

The Red Star Baptist Church is outside the casino area, as far as I know, but I’m tossing in a photo of it since it’s been a Red Star landmark. I remember it being right on the edge of the flood waters in 1993. I’ll revisit that area when those negatives surface.

Shoe Factory to Cape Casino

Missourian reporter Melissa Miller wrote about the Isle of Capri Casino’s drive to purchase property for the new $125 million casino approved this week. I’m not going to even try to cover all the aspects of the run-up to the casino decision. That’s what your daily newspaper is for.

The development will center around the open space that used to be the the old shoe factory shown in the photo above I shot Nov. 6, 2010. The white building at the bottom left of the frame is the Cape Mart convenience store at Mason and Main Streets. The small red brick building at the top right is the Mill Street pumping station. The road running left and right at the bottom is N. Spanish Street; east of it is Main Street. (By the way, you can click on any photo to make it larger. Then, you can click on the left or right side of the image to move through all of them.)

Melissa’s story says the casino will be bounded on the south by Mill Street, on the north by Mason Street and on the west by Main Street.

International Shoe Factory in early 70s

When I shot this aerial in the early 70s, the shoe factory was still in production.

The facility dated back to 1906 when the Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Co. of St. Louis decided to build its first branch facility in Cape after the Commercial Club agreed to provide the five-story building for free as an incentive to relocate.

The smokestack in the photo was built in 1926. A Feb. 5 Missourian story said, “The tallest smokestack in Cape Girardeau was completed at the International Shoe Co. plant this week. Requiring four months for construction, it towers 175 feet in the air, being 50 feet higher than the one formerly in use at the large plant here. The stack, of the most substantial build, is constructed of tile, cement and steel and was erected at a cost of $15,000. It is even larger than it appears, being 24 feet in diameter at the base and tapering to 10 feet at the top.”

Wanted: girls over 16

The International Shoe Co. had a standing ad running in the Missourian for most of 1918:

Wanted, Girls over 16 years of age to work on power sewing machines; pleasant surroundings and good pay while earning. International Shoe Co. Cape Girardeau.

By 1921, the building was expanded. Depending on which news account you read over the years, the total square footage of the factory was either 165,000 or 138,000 feet.

Nothing left of it today

This photo, taken from the southeast corner of the property looking north in 2009, shows that virtually nothing is left of a business that employed nearly 1,500 workers in its heyday.

$10 million in shoes shipped in 1925

From the Dec. 31, 1925 Missourian: Nearly $10,000,000 worth of shoes has have been shipped from the International Shoe Co. plant of Cape Girardeau during the twelve months just passed… The total of shoes manufactured at the plant during the year just closed, reaches 3,164,080 pairs – enough to furnish every man, woman and child in Cape Girardeau with 175 pairs. Now in its 18th year of operation, the shoe manufacturing plant here is constantly expanding and increasing its efficiency.

An army of employees, most of whom reside in or near Cape Girardeau, are employed throughout the year. This body of workers has been enlarged by 200 since last year, 1,600 men and women now being employed as compared to 1,400 at the close of 1924… The average weekly payroll for a six-day week is $35,000…Another year has passed without serious injury… No death or accident of serious consequence having been recorded during the 18 years that the factory has been in operation.

Shoe factory worker scalped

I’m not sure if the shoe company would qualify this as an injury of “serious consequence, but I’m sure Mrs. McCrite would:

June 24, 1926The condition of Mrs. Octavia McCrite, who is in the Cape Girardeau hospital following the loss of her scalp in an accident at the factory of the International Shoe Co. Saturday, was today reported to be unchanged.

Mill St. edge of property

This photo shows the intersection of Mill Street and Main Street. There is talk about relocating Main, so I suppose they’re going to shift it a bit to the west to make the casino property wider and to eliminate the slight curve in Main.

9,500 miles of shoes shipped

Missourian reporters struggled to find new ways to tell how productive the shoe company was every year in a business roundup.

Dec. 31, 1927 Three million pairs of shoes, made in Cape Girardeau, if placed end on end, would reach 9,500 miles, more than twice the distance from New York to San Francisco, or would require a train nearly three miles long to haul them, based on the average length of men’s shoes made at the plant. The wholesale value of the shoes made at the local plant is about $14,000,000. The factory is operated on a 50-hour-a-week basis, the employees working nine hours a day the first five days of the week and five hours on Saturday.

Mason and Main Street

This is the north end of the property. The white building at the bottom right of the frame is the Cape Mart convenience store at Mason and Main Streets.

Shoe factory largest in the world

Oct. 18, 1932The International Shoe Co. factory has kept from 1,150 to 1,400 employees steadily at work never less than four days a week manufacturing slightly more than two and a half million pairs of men’s fine dress shoes. One million dollars of the annual payroll of Cape Girardeau is maintained by this one concern. This is the largest dress shoe manufacturing plant in the world.

In 1929, The Missourian asked residents to list the city’s greatest accomplishments in the past 25 years. The bulk of the respondents listed the shoe factory, the Marquette Cement Plant, the Missouri Pacific railroad and the new Mississippi River Traffic Bridge.

Red Star and Honker Boat Dock

The empty lots in the Red Star district also reflect the beginning of the end. Too many floods in too short a time dealt a death knell to the vibrant community north of the shoe factory. By 1998, the city had acquired 94 of 114 flooded homes that were eligible for a FEMA buyout program and had started tearing them down.

By the 1960s, more and more of the stories talked about union troubles, plant slowdowns and plant closings in the shoe industry in general. Cape wasn’t immune to it. In 1994, a syndicated story said that once Missouri was second only to Maine in shoe production. Now, the United States, the story continued, had lost 70% of its shoe markets in imports. Up to 87% of all shoes sold in this country came from overseas, with about 60% of those being made in China.

In 1984, The Florsheim Shoe Company built a new plant at Highway 74 and West End Blvd. The old factory was donated to the Chamber of Commerce, which debated for years what to do with it.

In 1994, Florsheim Shoe Company was named Industry of the Year in Cape for its 450 employees who turned out 3,100 pair of shoes a day for an annual payroll of $6 million.  By 1999, the work force had dwindled to 300 workers. Not long after  that, the manufacturing process was moved to India.

Cape Mart convenience store

The Cape Mart convenience store at the corner of Main and Mason is one of the properties optioned to the casino owners, so I would suspect that its days are numbered, too.

In 1964, shortly after the factory was donated to the Chamber of Commerce, The Missourian wrote an editorial addressing the potential for developing the area. “The first fundamental question to be faced is whether to save the building or clear the site for other uses.”

“There is some reason to believe that the site would be far more valuable without the five-story factory building than with it. Six acres of cleared property protected by a floodwall and served by a railroad in downtown Cape Girardeau is a considerable asset. Ideas that come to mind include special commercial purposes, an industrial site or the location for high-rise apartments or a hotel.

“The factory and its site are nothing less than the key to the future improvement and development of the entire North Main Street neighborhood about which there has been considerable talk of renewal.”

Red Star neighborhood 4th and Main

When I typed the search phrase “shoe co” into the Google News Archives, I was struck at how much a part of Cape Girardeau the shoe factory under all its names was.

Scores, if not hundreds, of names popped up: in the early years, it was couples who worked at the factory getting married and starting families. In later years, right up to the present, it was in the obituaries of folks who had worked there for 20, 30 and even 48 years.

A faux riverboat gambling casino may bring all of the good things to Cape that the owners promise, but I doubt that it will ever become a part of the fabric of the community that the shoe factory was.

Train Crews Still Wave

My mother and I were cruising down by Missouri Drydocks at the end of the day, when I heard a train whistle off in the direction of downtown. I thought this might make a cool shot that tied together the river, auto traffic on the bridge and a train whizzing by. If a plane would just fly into the frame and someone would walk by, I’d have all forms of transportation covered in one photo.

I waited several minutes. No train. It was chilly and windy so I started back to the car.

The train whistled again. I waited several minutes. No train.

I started back to the car. The train whistled. This dance continued until I convinced myself that the train was northbound away from me.

Of course, as soon as I got under the bridge, I met a southbound short freight that had a caboose on it. I hadn’t seen a caboose on a working train in years. I wrote it off as a missed opportunity.

I’m a sucker for trains

I remember the trip to Chaffee in grade school. When I was 14, I went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico by train; I rode the train to and from college in Athens, Ohio; I did at least a dozen stories about trains over the years, and that doesn’t count the crashes and feature shots like this one from Ohio I used to illustrate a rail strike. The unbroken frost on the tracks got the point across that the trains weren’t running.

I rode a freight train

I spent a few nights riding a local freight dropping cars up and down the Florida East Coast line. (I knew every car that approached a crossing in front of us was going to try to beat the train and we were going to hit it. I’m not cut out to be an engineer.)

I’ve done a story on a T&S Gang, the guys who used to swing sledge hammers driving spikes in the days before mechanization. Discrimination was alive and well: white workers ate on plates in a sparkling white car; black workers were served on tin plates in a car that looked like it was left over from the Civil War.

I went from West Palm Beach to Chicago and back on the Silver Meteor;  my wife and I took the train to and from Washington, D.C. in 2003. Unfortunately, many of the stories were “last ride” ones marking the demise of rail service.

The caboose is back

We were in the downtown area when I spotted the caboose on the north end of a northbound short string of freight cars moving slowly. I sped ahead to the pumping station on N. Main where the shoe factory used to be and hopped out to shoot from the floodwall side of the tracks toward an old brick building that looked like it had been abandoned.

As the caboose pulled slowly past me, BNSF conductor Randy Graviett gave me a friendly wave.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe

I’m going to show my age by admitting that I think Frisco when I see those tracks. It took a Google search to find out that BNSF stands for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Over the last 150 years, it’s the result of mergers that have gobbled up 390 different railroad lines.

Frisco, which was chartered as the Pacific Railroad of Missouri in 1849, looked like it was poised to take advantage of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, but construction bogged down until the Civil War ended.

Cherokee Indians block Frisco expansion

In 1876, the southwest branch of the Pacific was purchased by the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, but Cherokee Indians blocked survey and construction work on the line, keeping it from establishing a transcontinental railroad. The Depression took its toll, but German U-boats sinking tankers in the Atlantic during World War II created a need for a way to transport Texas and Oklahoma oil to the East Coast. Frisco became a valuable contributor to the war effort.

Burlington Northern acquired the Frisco in 1980. You can read more of the history at the BNSF web site.

Railcars decorated with graffiti

While I was waiting for the train to clear the track, I was treated to a moving art show of graffiti. These weren’t just sloppy “tags” with a spray can. Some of the works showed a nice use of color and design.

Tom T. Hall was wrong

Tom T. Hall sings a lament with the chorus,

But the engineers don’t wave from the trains anymore
Not the way they did back in 1954
They’ve all got computers and diesels and things
And the engineers don’t wave from the trains anymore
No, the engineers don’t wave from the trains.

Tom should pay a visit to Cape Girardeau. When the engine came to a stop just about in front of me, brakeman Randy Stroup gave a wave and asked if I was working on the floodwall. I said that I was taking pictures of his caboose and tried to hand him my business card.

He stepped out of the cab and we had a brief chat while the train waited for a red signal to clear. The caboose is used on the local freight spotting cars between Chaffee and Proctor & Gamble. When I commented that it was unusual to see two engines on a train that short, he said they had just gotten the second power plant “because we’ve been dealing with more tonnage lately. We hope to be able to hang on to it.”

With that, the train was given clearance to pull ahead and he was gone.

A reader in the wild

I figured that was the end of it until I got home to see this email from Kim Richmond waiting for me:

Ken, my friend was on the caboose that you took picture of today, so if you will be so kind to e-mail me when you post it I would appreciated it. His name is Randy Graviett, you also spoke to Randy Stroup. I showed them your website and have told several other people about it since I found it. I look every day or every evening to catch up on all that I have missed. How long have you been posting? Do you have any pictures of the old Sunny Hill Hotel and Restaurant or the Country store? When I was younger that was a treat to go the the Country store and Sunny Hill for ice cream. If we had extra money when I was younger we would go to Woolworth’s and have a grilled hot dog and go across the street and visit my mother who worked at Montgomery Wards or as they use to say “Monkey Wards”

Wow. I wrote about the excitement of meeting a “reader in the wild” on my other blog.

This is a first for me. I’ve never had a reader chase me down for a photo I shot BEFORE it was published. Cape is truly the land of coincidences.

Frisco Railroad Library

If you’re a train buff, interested in railroad history or want to find out more about the Frisco Railroad, here’s a great site.