It’s not something we contemplate often, but people have been walking through Indianapolis land since before there was an Indianapolis. The first to make tracks through our geographic coordinates were native Americans, presumably wearing moccasins on their feet, if anything.
After the city had been platted by Ralston and Fordham, a stream of “European Americans” poured into what would become Indianapolis, altering it forevermore. Among the known arrivals of 1820 and 1821, the businessmen included two shoemakers: James Kittleman and Isaac Lynch; for the curious there were also: a miller, wagon maker, carpenter, baker, plasterer, farmer, merchant, justice of the peace, grocer, baker, cabinet maker, lawyer, preacher, tanner, printer, potter, hatter and others.
And while we don’t know exactly the shoe styles these early settlers donned on their feet, we may presume that these early shoemakers were kept busy serving the needs of Indianapolis citizenry.
The earliest advertisement (I could locate) from a local publication was in the Indianapolis Indiana Democrat, December 16, 1845- Advertising in a few lines of text the “Dayton Hat & Shoes Store” owned by J.K. Sharpe
The Indianapolis Indiana Democrat December 23, 1845- also touted J. H. Oglesby advertising Boots and shoes for winter wear – “low price of cash or produce.” One wonders what quantity of produce it would have taken to pay for a pair of shoes or boots back then? And the difference in acceptable currency between then and now.
April 3, 1846- in the same publication, Boots and shoes, were offered by W. H. Morrison; A. Knodle also offered Boots and shoes opposite Washington Hall, 2 doors west of Tomlinson Drug Store ; Shoes and ladies shoes were available at J. Cook & Sons. Addresses weren’t listed with these small unillustrated entries and A. Knodle’s business was the only one offering instructions on how to find the place. We may presume our city was so compact at that point, and the commercial interests so limited, that the citizens were familiar with these businesses by name. If that were the case, the need to advertise seems curious.
Following the Civil War, shoe manufacturers and retailers proliferated–not only due to demand, but following the invention of a sewing machine capable of sewing the soles of shoes to uppers in 1858 (not long after the invention of the sewing machine in 1846).
By 1870, Indianapolis had 24 shoe dealers and two wholesale shoe businesses: E. C. Mayhew & Co. (established 1855) and V. K. Hendricks & Co. (established by 1860) and was one of the leading industries of the city. From a list of “aggregate sales of leading articles by Indianapolis dealers” (what money was being spent on local goods), Boots and shoes were in 8th place, representing over $1.7 million dollars in sales. And since we’re all here today, the list of top 10 money producers in Indianapolis in 1870 were (in order): groceries, dry goods, grain, hardware & iron, liquors, hogs, clothing, boots & shoes, cigars/ tobacco and drugs/ medicine. Have times really changed all that much? (source: Indianapolis- A Historical & Statistical Sketch of the Rail Road City by W. R. Holloway)
In 1880, 171 “Boot and shoemakers” and dealers were listed in the city directory with the largest concentration of such businesses on Washington Street, closely followed by Massachusetts Avenue, Virginia Avenue, Illinois Street alongside most other retail.
Hard to believe it, but in the early 1920’s there was a wooden shoe industry flourishing in Indianapolis, just a few doors down from Union Station at 365 South Illinois where you could get made to order a pair of wooden shoes. Louis Landwerien of Landwerien Leather Company & Son have kept a stock of wooden shoes on hand, selling more than 400 pairs of old fashioned wooden shoes yearly. The leather topped variety with heavy wooden sole (1 plus inch thick) became popular, and were mostly sold ‘to gardeners of the old school,” as well as butchers and fish men who are in water much of the time. It seems they were the Dansko or Croc’s of their day. They cost $1.50 per pair and were made of Whitewood or basswood usually. Walter C. Kiplinger, tree Dr. for Indianapolis public schools was a fan of these shoes, wearing them as he tended to the gardens of our public schools.
Two shoe stores names recognizable to the Indianapolitan of today were started in the late 1800’s: Marott and Stout, with Stout’s being the last one standing.
Marott Shoes was started by George J. Marott in 1884 at 16 North Pennsylvania, moving in 1887 to 22 East Washington Street in part of the Lombard Building and in 1912 relocated to 18-20 East Washington Street. The Marott Department store on Massachusetts Avenue opened in 1906 and operated until 1919. Perhaps you recall a later branch of Marott’s- located at 4128 block of East 10th Street and in opened in the new Shadeland shopping Center (at Shadeland and East 38th Street) circa December 1957. There were two branches in Broad Ripple: 810 Broad Ripple Avenue and 6233 Carrollton and on also on the east side at Irvington Plaza 6407 E. Washington. George Marott’s father was a shoe merchant from England who taught him the business.
In 1954 Marott’s was named the Indianapolis Brand Name Retailer of the year. Before Mr. Marott’s death, he sold the business to his employees and Butler University. But that’s a story for another day…
While most shoe stores remained concentrated in greater downtown through the 1930’s and 40’s, after World War II and the boom in suburbs, many shoe stores had satellite stores farther from downtown. The sprouting suburbs would be the undoing of downtown commerce in the coming decades.
In the 1930 city directory, there were still Shoe Dealers, Wholesalers and Jobbers, Shoe Repairers and Shoe Manufacturers. In 1940, there were four times as many shoe repairers as retailers. That era of conservation and not being wasteful was clearly en vogue after the stock market crash of 1929 and through the end of World War II in particular.
It seems today, that most shoes are not manufactured in the United States, much less in Indianapolis. Cobblers and shoe and boot makers are an antiquated idea, or perhaps left solely to the world of couture. However, fashion and styles are on a constant loop of recycling--most every shoe of decades ago has a contemporary counterpart available for sale somewhere.
And while the shoes may not be manufactured locally, if you are still old-fashioned enough to shop for shoes in person, rather than online, Stout’s Shoes on Massachusetts Avenue is the one place in Indianapolis where you can get a hint of what shoe shopping was like decades ago. If you would like to see that legacy preserved, stop in, say hello to Ripley and watch the Baldwin Flyer and sliding ladders, knowing you’re doing something that has been done in the same location for over 120 years…
This article and part of this website is kindly sponsored by Stout’s Shoes