The Old Shoe Peg Factory


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The old Shoe Peg Factory was located in the Centerville section of Brattleboro on Brook Road. It is now known as Williams Street. Part of the Brook Road community ran along the Whetstone Brook which was dotted in the nineteenth century with mills and factories. The Shoe Peg Factory was built on a very desirable place on the edge of the brook, had the use of the dam behind it, and the water rights necessary for the use of the machinery needed in this industry.


This factory, dam, and water rights are noted in many of the land records in the Brattleboro Town Clerk's office, Book P, pg. 85---


Jonathan Smith leases to Emory Wood for a period of two years, a saw mill and peg factory, with the water rights including the mill yard attached to the same and also that building adjoining said mill which the said Wood now occupies as a manufacturer of shoe pegs and the privileges of using water to carry said mill and Peg factory. March 13, 1848.


Book T, pg. 416---


Emory Wood to Charles Wood---Peg Factory & water rights. December 8, 1856 Emory Wood leases to Charles Wood "which is now and heretofore been used for the manufacture of shoe pegs together with the water power belonging to or which is used to propel the machinery in said building".


Emory and Charles Wood seem to have been the primary users of the factory. The author has not found any record of how many employees this factory had or what jobs they held in the making of shoe pegs. From the 1864 diary of Lucy Ann (Norcross) Sargent, who was living in Centerville at this time, we can see a picture of how this industry was a source of work and income to one family from July to December 1864.


23 July 1864 I worked in the Peg shop all day.

25 July 1864 Went in the shop and worked all day. worked very hard all afternoon.

27 July 1864 Worked in the shop..I am trying to learn to split pegs. Hope I shall succeed.

2 August 1864 Went to work at 8 .very warm I split pegs all afternoon.

3 August 1864

Worked in the shop all day. Split pegs in the forenoon cut my finger off in the splitter. Dr. Ketchum sewed it up again hurts badly.

22 August 1864 I worked all day in the shop.


There are no references to the shop between August 3rd and August 22 except in regard to the pain in her finger, the doctor's visits to re-bandage leaving it to be assumed she did not return to work until August 22nd.


From August 22 to September 16th, there were other brief references to working in the peg shop including the mention of others in the household working sporadically and relating how they worked when their was work available and often did not go in until afternoon. Lucy Ann Sargent seems to have stopped working on September 28th, although her husband Rodney Sargent worked sporadically until the last entry about the shop which was on December 21, 1864.


The idea of pegging to attach the soles and heels to the upper part of the shoe was begun in an attempt to extend the life of the shoe because the threading and stitching often rotted because of dampness and caused the sole to fall off. It was sometimes used along with stitching or nailing. The pegs were 3/4" long, tapered, and slightly thicker than a wooden match. Shoe pegging proved to be a fast technique and fast workers could finish four pairs of "pegged shoes" a day using wooden pegs made cheaply by machine.


The Antique Tool Collector's Guide to Value by Ronald S. Barlow (El Cajon California, 1991) states that---


Short wooden pegs were hammered through both layers of leather into the underside of the form. Temporary tacks which held the insole in position on the last were then removed and the outer sole and heel were either nailed or pegged thru the whole assembly with longer willow pegs. After the final trimming and shaping with various knives and shaves, the wooden last was removed and pegs were filed flush with a long handled peg cutting rasp which reached inside the assembled shoe or boot.


The pegging machine was invented in 1838 and was like a two needle sewing machine and almost as fast. The first station was an awl which made a hole, then the second station drove a peg into the hole. The machine took a block of wood that had been cut across the grain and was of a thickness equal to the length of the pegs. The end grain was scored in both directions, making a card full of diamond points. The card was then split by the machine to free the hundreds of pegs. These fed directly into the next step in the machine which inserted them into the shoes. Most pegs in the soles of shoes were usually staggered for strength and were machine pegged, nine pegs to the inch.


Diana Muir in her book Reflections in Bullough's Pond, states that---


In 1810, the year of the shoe peg, every town in southern New England was extensively engaged in manufacturing for distant markets. The practice of pegging shoes and boots with wooden pegs in the soles rather than stitching spanned the whole 19th century and was common in both the United States as well as Canadian provinces as far away as Nova Scotia. By the mid-1830s, the New England shoe industry was ranked with textile manufacturing, taking second place only to farming. In Massachusetts 23,000 men and 15,000 women were employed. In 1837, close to three million pairs of men's boots and shoes were produced in the central part of that state alone.


During the Civil War, pegging of shoes became an issue with the army. Prior to the war, most army boots were made at the Susquehanna Arsenal where the pieces were cut out and then "farmed out" to independent workers to assemble. Thus the sole stitching was done at home without machinery.


According to the Congressional Record of the Congressman E. B. Washburn's Committee as seen in the January 1862, 37th Congressional Record, 2nd Session, there was an initiative to use cheaper pegged products and an inquiry was made into this practice instead of following the common practice.


The record shows the complaints about this issue. Regulations called for sewn shoes but cheap work shoes for the immigrant trade and those for the plantation (slave) trade had been pegged together since a labor-saving machine that set nine pegs to the inch came into use. The army did every thing it could to force the contractors to deliver sewn shoes, although a pair of sewn shoes cost $1.80 to $2.00 per pair as opposed to $1.25 for pegged shoes.


Cavalry boots were $3.25 for sewn and pegged were $2.50. About forty per cent of the boots used in the Civil War were pegged. The Fugawee Shoe Company still produces boots and shoes in the manner used during the Civil War


There are many sites on the internet that discuss the manufacturing of shoe pegs. Some companies manufactured the pegs only, using mostly yellow birch and maple which enters the machinery green and the final pegs coming out seasoned. These were then packed in wooden barrels to be sold. Other factories carried on the process from the log to the final shoe.


It is unclear whether the Wood Peg Factory in Brattleboro did more than just produce the pegs. It is also unclear whether the pegs or final product were sent off to be sold either to the army or to other companies for finish work or if the pegs were primarily used locally. Because the diary of Lucy Ann Sargent was written in 1864, it seems reasonable to wonder if the factory may have been in some way contributing to the footwear of the Union soldiers.


The Old Shoe Peg Factory in Centreville seems to have either fallen down or been taken down by 1869. Some feel that it was lost in the flood of 1869, but this has never been proven. The land changed hands and became the site of the Spencer & Douglas Co., manufacturers of Stencil Dies. This fact is mention in the Vermont Record and Farmer of October 6,1869 which stated "the former site of the Old Peg Factory, latterly owned and occupied by Messrs. Spencer and Douglas. . ."


What can be learned from this was that wooden shoe pegs were a source of income for many people and households throughout the 1800's. Through the 1864 diary it was also learned that Sargent family also worked in a woolen mill, braided palm leaves for hats and worked briefly at a glue factory. This gives a wonderful and informative look at the source of income outside of the home in a working class family in Brattleboro, Vermont.


It is also interesting to note that Lucy Ann (Norcross) Sargent's husband, Rodney Sargent, served in the Civil War, enlisting in August of 1862 and was mustered out in Oct of 1863. His wife's diary was started on the first of January 1864 and was kept throughout the whole year. She does not mention the war at any time during this period leaving us to believe that at least for her, her interest was in the keeping of the house and working outside the home to help with the income of the family. This diary is in the possession of the author, Marjorie V. Howe.


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Whetstone Brook

Centreville Factories


Sources.


Diana Muir, Reflections in Bullough's Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England.
(Hanover NH: University Press of New England, 2000), pg. 74.


Land Records, Town Clerk's Office, Brattleboro, Vermont


Vermont Record and Farmer, 6 Oct 1869, p. 2.


Websites.


Fugawee Shoe Company

Shoes and Shoemaking

Shoe Shop, Sturbridge Massachusetts

The Old Shoe Cobbler


Report by Marjorie Valliere Howe.


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