Beverly Historical Society

Coming to Beverly: United Shoe Machinery  

In late September 1902 in an extra edition of the Beverly Evening Times, the news was trumpeted that the United Shoe Machinery Company had picked a 150-acre site off Elliott Street in Beverly for a massive factory.  Construction began the next year.  When it was completed the huge complex held more than ten acres of floor space in three buildings, along with a foundry and drop forge.  This building, by Ernest Ransome, was revolutionary in its day.  Made of reinforced concrete it was a pioneer in industrial building techniques. The factory was so large that messengers carried documents from place to place on roller skates!


United Shoe Machinery Company, “The Shoe”

The company known as USMC, first formed in 1899, when three companies, Goodyear Machinery Company, Consolidated Hand Lasting Machine Company and McKay Shoe Machinery Company merged to begin the automation and standardization of the shoe making industry.

For many years “The Shoe”, as it came to be called, was Beverly’s largest employer; the firm hired 2,500 workers initially and it employed more than 6000 men and women during its peak.  A staff of inventors worked on site, designing new machines used to make footwear.  Each inventor had a private, completely equipped workroom and a draftsman was assigned to each inventor. The focus on research and invention paid off.   Over the years the staff in this branch of the company designed hundreds of new and improved shoe machines and patenting more than 9,000 inventions.

The Shoe supported its workers in other ways as well.  Employees were encouraged to engage in a variety recreation activities.  Through the Athletic Association employees could join bowling leagues and basketball teams, play tennis, golf, cricket and soccer.  Workers formed sewing circles, reading clubs and bands.  The health of employees was looked after as well, with safety systems in place, and staff on hand for emergencies.  Employees could even have their eyes checked at the factory.  A restaurant was available for workers and land near the factory was divided into garden plots and allocated to the employees, extra produce was sold to the restaurant.  From 1913 through the 1930s the “Sam-Sam” carnival was a community highlight – in 1935 approximately 40,000 people attended.  Wages at USM were among the highest in the state.  The progressive atmosphere encouraged employee loyalty and for many families several generations went to work there.  A vocational training school for youth was introduced early in the 20th century, ensuring a trained workforce.

The factory brought workers from the countries of Italy, Canada, Sweden and Ireland, among others, adding to the rich ethnic diversity of Beverly which survives to this day.  Almost from the first announcement of the new factory, new neighborhoods sprang up in Ryal Side, North Beverly and Prospect Hill to house the workers. Shingleville, the area closest to the factory, had streets named after men who contributed to the development of the shoe machine industry – McKay, Matthies, Goodyear, Sturtevant, and Blake streets, are all named to honor them.  USM president Sidney Winslow requested in the early 1900s that North Beverly be renamed Winslowville – despite the enthusiasm the city leaders felt for the new employer the request was denied.
The coming to Beverly of the Shoe made a huge impact on our community through most of the 20th century.  Although its departure in the 1980s was a blow, both to the economic health of Beverly and to the factory building, the Cummings Center has restored and enlarged the impressive structure and once more provided a place of employment for hundreds of workers.

coming to beverlyclick to enlarge

The Old Planters of Beverly

The beginning of Beverly as a community dates to 1635 when a 1,000 acre grant on the Bass River Side of Salem was made to five men, later called the “Old Planters.”  Those men were Roger Conant, John Balch, John Woodberry, William Trask and Peter Palfrey.  All five men had been part of the short-lived fishing station established by the Dorchester Company of England, at Cape Ann (Gloucester) in 1623.  When the enterprise failed in 1626 and most of the men returned to England, Conant persuaded some of the most steadfast colonists to stay in the area.   They sailed south along the coast to Naumkeag, “…a neck of land lying a little to the westward” – today called Salem – that they believed would be a favorable site for an agricultural colony.  Here about 30 people built their homes and began farming.

A new group of settlers from England arrived in September 1628 lead by John Endicott.  Endicott had been chosen as the new governor of the tiny colony by the newly formed “New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts Bay” which had taken over the Dorchester Company.  Religious differences between the old and the new planters caused friction from the start.  Endicott and his followers wished to separate from the Church of England and forbade the use of the Book of Common Prayer.  Conant and his people wished only to purify the church and resented the new rules, which involved not just religion, but what crops could be grown.  Letters went back and forth from London to Salem and eventually, in 1629 a peaceable settlement was achieved and the name of the community changed to Salem, a variant of the Hebrew for peace.

For the next six years the colonists continued in Salem, but perhaps not all was well.  In 1635 a grant was requested and made of 1000 acres across the Bass River.  The land was divided into farms of 200 acres each and given to William Trask, John Woodberry, Roger Conant, Peter Palfrey and John Balch.  The land was divided into upland, meadow or marsh and each of the grantees received an equal amount of property of each type.  Peter Palfrey never lived here, selling his grant to William Dodge and Trask sold his share to Thomas Scruggs.

The Old PlantersBalch House at 448 Cabot Street

Roger and Sarah Conant, John and Ann Woodberry, and John and Margery Balch moved to the Bass River Side with their children shortly after the grant was confirmed.  The Balch house standing today is on the site of the original farm and the Conant house was built nearby, north along what is today Cabot Street.  Research indicates that William Woodberry, brother of John, built a house in 1636 in Beverly Cove.  There is some indication that John built his house near the present-day intersection of Elliott and Balch streets.  The Dodge’s, led by “Farmer” William Dodge, built their farm houses in North Beverly on what is  still called Dodge Street.

The challenges of the pioneer life were extreme; farming in a wilderness, disease and early death were common, but the perseverance of the Old Planters and their families was equal to the task.  The thriving city of Beverly is their legacy.


Beverly’s Civil War – Secession or Bust

In the second half of the 1880s, a published map of Beverly showed a dividing line between the “old” town and the proposed new town of Beverly Farms. The line started near what is now Prince Street and ran north to Wenham, cutting off almost 40 percent of Beverly’s territory but only about a tenth of its population.

The secessionists, or “Divisionists” as they were generally called, included most but not all residents of Beverly Farms, cutting across economic lines from the wealthy “summer people” to the shoemakers and artisans who made up the bulk of the Farms folks. They even had their own newspaper, the Beverly Farms Advocate. Their grievances included a complaint that the Beverly assessors valued land in the Farms much more highly than in Beverly proper, while services to the outlying area were largely lacking.  Beverly had a new steam fire pumper while the Farms had to rely on a hand tub. Downtown Beverly had electric lights by the beginning of 1887, while the Farms, according to the Divisionists, had to rely for illumination on “kerosene lamps and the moon.” Distance was another factor, as the difficulty at the time of travel between the outlying village and the center of town made attendance at town meetings problematic. The local weekly, the Beverly Citizen, ridiculed the Division movement.

A division bill was first introduced before the Legislature in 1886, but it went nowhere. In a vain attempt to quell the secession movement, the Beverly town meeting voted in 1886 to build a new fire station for Beverly Farms with a steam pumper. This did nothing to calm the storm, especially when horses were not included and the fire laddies had to borrow a team from a nearby stable whenever the alarm came in.

Undaunted, the Farms was back armed for another try in 1887 and came within one signature of succeeding. After weeks of bitter debate by advocates of both sides, both houses passed the Division bill that spring by less than a two-thirds margin (the Senate vote was 19-11). The Citizen headline complained of the “disgraceful action” by the Legislature. Beverly Farms celebrated victory, but prematurely, because Beverly still had an ace up its sleeve. Led by John I. Baker and other Beverly advocates and with help from an influential state senator, the Division foes persuaded Governor Oliver Ames to veto the bill. The Citizen trumpeted the veto. Now it was Beverly’s turn to celebrate.

The Divisionists were game for another try in 1888, but legislators were tired of the contentious debate and the House of Representatives sent the bill down to defeat. A last attempt in 1889 never got out of committee. Bitter feelings on both sides persisted for years, but Beverly’s “civil war” was officially over. Beverly moved to prevent a renewal by adopting a city charter in 1894. While a town could be divided by the Legislature, a city’s boundaries are sacrosanct unless the voters agree to amend them.


Summer White House

taft Family shot with President Taft taken at the Evans Estate

Wanting to get out of the stifling heat of the Washington D.C. summer, President William Howard Taft, his wife Nellie, and their two children, Robert and Helen, chose Beverly as their summer residence in 1909. Mrs. Taft had suffered a stroke soon after the inauguration and it was hoped that the cool breezes and quiet of the shore would improve her health.

At the invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Evans, whose summer estate at Woodbury Point (now Lynch Park) included a guest house called Stetson Cottage, the first family moved in during the summer of 1909.  The North Shore was the summer home to many politicians and wealthy businessmen and their families, many of them well-known to the President and Mrs. Taft.  The President had no trouble finding golf partners at the two local clubs that he joined or people who shared his passion for automobile junkets of the area.  The family attended church at First Parish, participated in local events like parades and Taft laid the cornerstone of the new YMCA on Cabot Street.

tafthouse Stetson Cottage, where President Taft lived for two summers

Soon after the newspaper announcement that the presidential family would be summering in Beverly, souvenir hunters descended on the Evans estate, wreaking havoc on the summer white house of Stetson Cottage and the grounds.  Secret service men patrolled the grounds trampling the flower beds and generally spoiling the serene summer atmosphere.  Mrs. Evans, widowed shortly before the arrival of Taft and his family, put up with the disruption for two years.  She then sold Stetson Cottage and had it cut in half and floated to Marblehead on barges, where it was re-erected on a new site.

A new summer white house was located East Corning Street, at the home called Parramatta.  Unlike Mrs. Evans, the owner Lucy Peabody was pleased to have the first family stay in her home.  She painted the house a patriotic white in celebration.


Courtesy of The Beverly Historical Society