The family-run enterprise was initiated by the passion of a man who returned to Fredericton over a century ago. Odber M. Hartt, born in Fredericton in 1852, left for the United States at 22 with his wife, Loretta Kilburn of Kingsclear. There, he succeeded in the shoe industry, eventually becoming a foreman and superintendent at leading American shoe factories. Newspapers described him as a gentleman well-versed in boot and shoe manufacturing.
While living in New York, the couple had three sons and two daughters. They frequently visited New Brunswick, and during the summer of 1893, Odber came with a bold proposal. He was astonished that Fredericton lacked a shoe factory and believed that establishing one would be lucrative for the city. To demonstrate his commitment, he offered $10,000 of his own funds if the local community could contribute an additional $30,000.
He suggested the old racecourse opposite the York Street train station as an ideal location. The potential perks included exemption from civic taxes for new industries, free water from the city, and access to a large leather supply from local tanneries.
Hartt assured that the majority of the planned 300 jobs would be given to young locals, with two-thirds being male and one-third female. Their combined weekly earnings would be between $800 and $1000, paid every Saturday night, which would benefit other local businesses.
In the autumn of 1895, Hartt, still recognizing the promise of a sizable factory, returned and presented a prospectus to the Fredericton Board of Trade, this time estimating a capital of $50,000.
Three more years went by without a factory commitment, but the Hartt family returned to New Brunswick in the spring of 1898.
After the birth of their third daughter in Fredericton, the couple chose to stay. Hartt was confident he could secure the necessary support and, in a compelling letter to The Daily Gleaner, he expressed his vision:
“I would like to see my old native place possess a fine, large shoe manufacturing business, one that we all could be proud of.”
The factory was to be named The Fredericton Shoe Company, with Hartt proposed as its superintendent. A site was chosen and the city architect was engaged, with plans to have the building erected and roofed “before the snow flies.” Hartt believed he could finally relax, but was it too soon?
At a shareholders’ meeting on October 10, signs of unease emerged. Thankfully, Hartt managed to reassure the shareholders and any skeptics about the factory and its financial prospects. His enthusiasm and motivation never wavered, as he remained constantly active. People said he was “like a blackfly in fishing time—nobody knew where he would land next.”
Hartt traveled to Upper Canada to conduct “a very careful investigation” of prominent shoe factories, where he found that all leather was imported from the United States with hefty duties. In early November, he visited numerous large shoe factories in Boston, inquiring about the latest methods and learning about new machinery. He also sought skilled operators to serve as foremen for various departments in Fredericton. Hartt concluded that producing high-quality, top-tier shoes was the optimal strategy.
By November’s end, the first floor joists were in place and the floor was being installed to keep snow out of the basement. By May 1, carpenters hastened to complete the second floor while another team set up two large steel boilers in the engine house. By mid-May, the roof was being added to the third floor as bricklayers finished the walls. In total, half a million bricks were used.
After laying 30,000 feet of kiln-dried hardwood over the rough floors on each level, several schoolboys were hired to whitewash the interior before the machines arrived from New England in June. A group of experts, organized by Hartt, would be present for the installation.
Final touches included a flagstaff for the main tower to fly the Union Jack, a two-story vault connected to a suite of three offices on the first floor’s northwest corner, the installation of an elevator and generator, the dismantling of scaffolding for the 65-foot chimney, and plans for a railway siding to facilitate easy product transportation.
Throughout the summer, intrigued locals and visitors flocked to the factory and were given tours by the ever-energetic Hartt. From the basement, featuring a new concrete floor and designated for the rubber footwear department, to the third floor’s stitching room where shoe “uppers” were to be made, onlookers marvelled at the facility.
On the morning of July 26, 1899, steam was activated, and work on a line of shoes began the following day. Fredericton’s young men and women operated various machines under the guidance of imported skilled operators. Thus, first-rate boot and shoe production commenced.
The initial 2,500 pairs, completed by August’s end, served as samples for the company’s sales representatives. Two months later, they returned, having secured as many orders for the spring season as the factory could handle. The Hartt Boot & Shoe factory was well on its way to becoming Canada’s top shoemaker.
By Christmas 1899, the factory’s output reached 11,000 pairs for the fall, and by Christmas 1900, 9,000 pairs were produced monthly by a staff of 300, including Hartt’s two sons. Fredericton residents proudly wore Hartt Boots and Shoes, and the Hartt trademark graced store windows nationwide.
By 1901’s end, employees were manufacturing 1,000 pairs daily, and the company made its first shipment to England. In 1903, with nearly 500 employees, daily production increased to 2,000 pairs. The factory provided boots for the military during both world wars and the “Strathcona” boot for the RCMP. The founder’s dream had come true.
Unexpectedly, in 1904, Odber M. Hartt resigned, sold his holdings, and left Fredericton as abruptly as he had arrived. He returned to the United States and joined one of the largest boot and shoe companies in Indiana.
The Hartt Boot and Shoe Factory was established by Odbur Hartt in 1898. It is a three storey brick factory structure with a distinctive look due to its central tower. The factory fronts on the west side of York Street in Fredericton, with a boiler and engine house extending out the back at the southern end of the building.The Fredericton-based business he started continued to grow and prosper, providing stable employment for young people and substantial profits for shareholders. Even under new ownership, the Hartt name remained, symbolizing high standards until the factory’s closure in 1999.
On January 13, 1918, Odber M. Hartt passed away from heart failure in Fort Wayne at the age of 67.
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3 thoughts on “Hartt Boot & Shoe Factory”
This was interesting to me as my mom worked there during the 2nd World War. I also had the opportunity to go into the building in 1997 before it closed.
Love these stories. Please also do one on Glen R. Glenn who started Glen Glenn Sound in the 30’s
Thanks Brendon for the compliment. If you use our “search” feature you can find lots of history of famous New Brunswickers and places, plus don’t miss the ghost stories in the “Folklore” section. You will find the Glen R. Glenn story at https://mynewbrunswick.ca/glen-glenn-sound-recording-co/