By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — More than 100 people turned out for Saturday’s unveiling of the new Shoe Workers Plaza by the Haverhill Historical Commission, including several people who talked about their days working in the city’s shoe factories.
One of those former shoe workers, Shirley Campbell, regaled the crowd with her experiences working for the Laird-Schober Shoe Company on Duncan Street from 1941 to 1944 as a fancy stitcher and stamping machine operator. After that, she gave birth to a son, but returned to the factory from 1947 to 1955 as a roving worker, filling in wherever she was needed.
“Most workers were proud working on an expensive shoe, and all did their best as these shoes were sent to some of the largest stores in our big cities,” Campbell told the crowd.
Edgar Movsesian talked about his father’s shoe factory at 144 Essex St., called The Dainty Maid, while displaying old photos of inside the factory and of a company summer picnic.
The new plaza is located in the front of the MVRTA parking garage opposite the commuter rail station, an area where many of Haverhill’s original shoe workers once lived and worked. The plaza features flower beds and two parks benches.
A bronze plaque honoring the shoe workers who helped build the city was unveiled on the side of the parking garage’s exterior brick wall, across from the commuter rail station.
City Solicitor Bill Cox served as emcee for the event and introduced speakers, including Mayor James Fiorentini, Carol Crowell, chair of the Haverhill Historical Commission, Kathy Kimball, chief researcher for the Historical Commission, and School Committeeman Joseph Bevilacqua. Members of Haverhill’s School Committee and City Council attended the event as well along with family members of those who worked in the city’s shoe industry.
“We had an overwhelming response from people who showed up at the event,” Kimball said. “It far exceeded our expectations.”
The Historical Commission also set up a temporary display of photographs of the city’s shoe workers, which will be installed permanently inside the parking garage.
The city became a world leader in the shoe industry with more than 200 shoe and support companies in the 1800s and 1900s, eventually earning it the nickname, Queen Slipper City. Much has been documented about the quality of the shoe products.
Plans for this plaza began over a year ago when the Historical Commission began designing a plaque to honor the city’s shoe workers.
The commission also reached out to people across the country who shared stories about their work or about family members who worked in the city’s shoe factories.
The Haverhill Gazette supported the project by publishing photos of shoe workers for readers to identify.
“We learned through these interviews and stories that the work was hard, the hours were long and the pay was low,” Kimball said about the city’s shoe industry.
Funding for the framing of historical shoe worker photos and the bronze plaque is from the Haverhill Cultural Council and private donations.
To make a tax deductible donation to this evolving and continuing project, send a check payable to: Haverhill Historical Commission, Haverhill City Hall, Room 201, Attn. Sandra Palmer, 4 Summer St., Haverhill, MA 01830. Please include Shoe Workers Plaza on the memo line. You can also contact Palmer at 978-374-2330.