In many early towns in New Hampshire, the shoemaking business was the main income for local residents.Although brickmaking in Epping was important, the shoe industry was the town’s “bread and butter.” Many immigrants came from Canada to work in the shops.They migrated first to Lewiston, Maine, where the shoe industry was thriving, and from Maine soon moved on to Southern New Hampshire, and just over the border to Haverhill, Massachusetts.Remember, the French Canadians did not speak English, and they left their friends and families in Canada.We have school records of adult education classes in Epping, dating back to 1900.In these records all of the adult students were from Canada, and were studying English. Early shoes had square toes and they were made one at a time. A pair of shoes cost more than most farmers could afford, so is it any wonder that children and adults went barefoot most of the year?These were very proud people and excellent workers, who wanted a better life for their families. The shoe was made to one shape, no left or right, and the soles of the shoes were attached with wooden pegs. The early shoe makers were called cordwainers, and they made shoes, working out of their homes.
The early shoemakers cut out the soles and uppers themselves, and often operated a tannery.The tannery consisted of a four-sided hole in the ground.A layer of cow or horse hides would be spread out and covered with a layer of hemlock bark. The pit would be covered with water and the hides would soak for a period of time. After the hides were soaked for the required time, they were scraped and softened, making them ready for cutting.The younger members of the family were often put to work scraping the hides and preparing them for cutting.The early shoe factories in Epping were small, but as our working population grew, larger factories were built.Rufus Smith was among the first to make shoes commercially.His shop was located on South Main Street, and is now an apartment building.The Bartlett brothers built a large six story shoe shop on the top of the hill on Bartlett Street.Although they were in operation for only ten years, they manufactured quality shoes.Shapiro and Wagman built the shoe factory on Railroad Avenue.This was later sold to National Shoe and Leather, who operated the shop for many years.