Categories: Beacon Falls, Business and Industry, Work
Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company Puts Best Foot Forward
Father and son George and Tracy Lewis not only founded a business together, they also had a hand in more than doubling the population of Beacon Falls. As their Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company, founded in 1898, grew, so did its need for new workers. With the availability of jobs, the town’s population grew from 623 in 1900 to 1,600 in 1922. More than half of those (942, according to records collected by the late town historian Michael Krenesky) were immigrant factory workers, newly arrived from Europe. They produced the company’s nationally known “Top Notch” brand of rubber boots and shoes. By 1918 the company employed 1,500 people and had 110 traveling salesmen.
A few years earlier, in 1915, Tracy Lewis had commissioned the famed Olmsted Brothers to design a landscaped neighborhood plan for both the factory and the company-owned workers’ homes on the highland. Workers and their families could spend free hours at a movie house and a community center with a bowling alley. According to a booklet published by the Beacon Falls Centennial Committee, the people of the village also came together through such activities as the community band and a baseball team. For outdoor recreation, they turned to High Rock Grove, now called High Rock State Park and incorporated into the Naugatuck State Forest. Improved by George W. Beach, Superintendent of the Naugatuck Railroad Company, this “small tract of fine level woodland” became a day resort, tucked below the rugged uplands that still tower above the river. Here, workers and other travelers debarked directly from the nearby trains for boating and picnicking.
Back on the factory floor, workers produced a remarkable number of canvas-topped rubber-soled “sneakers.” Fewer than 150 pairs were manufactured in 1899, when the shoe plant opened, but, in 1920, 5.5 million pairs of shoes left Beacon Falls. In 1921 the plant was taken over by the United States Rubber Company (later known as Uniroyal), which had been founded in Naugatuck in 1892. Manufacturing continued until 1930, when the operation was transferred to a plant in Naugatuck. Shoes created in Beacon Falls under the brand name “Plahelth” were the precursors of the company’s internationally known Keds footwear, and the offices for the company remained in Beacon Falls until the mid-1950s.