Monday, August 11, 2008

Thomas G. Plant Shoe Company


During our trip to New Hampshire this summer, we visited Castle in the Clouds, a mountaintop estate overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. We thought maybe we would just grab a quick lunch at the Carriage House, a stable turned restaurant. But we ended up touring the 16 room, Arts and Crafts style home and discovering a connection to our own neighborhood.
Before beginning the self-guided tour, guests all gather in the sun room where a docent gives a brief introduction to the estate and its original owners, Thomas and Olive Plant. The Plants were something of an odd couple with Thomas 26 years Olive's senior and Olive, at 6'1", towering a foot above her husband. 
Thomas Plant was a shoe manufacturer. And that's where the local angle comes in. His factory, the largest manufacturer of women's shoes in the world at the time, was right down the street from our home in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. In fact, the Thomas G. Plant Company stood on the spot where we now buy our groceries at Super Stop and Shop, on the corner of Centre and Bickford Streets. 
The factory employed over four thousand workers from the surrounding neighborhood of predominantly German and Irish immigrants. Plant, a former factory worker himself, took pains to keep his workers happy, healthy and productive. His pay scale was above average. He provided workers with a free lending library, a gymnasium and swimming pool. He employed mothers of young children and started an on-site daycare center for them. Throughout the "bright, clean factory interior," a heating and ventilating system "change[d] the air completely every three minutes." 


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