Today a sturdy brick building at 34 Hayden Rowe Street houses office space -- a reflection of today’s knowledge-based economy. But more than 100 years ago, 34 Hayden Rowe housed yesteryear’s economic engines: factories making shoes and boots, the thread to hold them together, other factories that came and went, and at the very end, packets of sugar and salt.
It was a Hopkinton resident, Joseph Walker, who made the innovation that started it all. In 1818 he invented a new kind of shoe sole that attached with wooden pegs, kicking off the golden era for locally made shoes. “This discovery has produced a great and wonderful revolution in the manufacture of boots and shoes in the New England states,” says the History of Middlesex County.
Hopkinton resident Lee Claflin got an early toehold in the growing business. He established a shoe and boot factory at the Hayden Rowe site in 1840, hiring L.H. Bowker to manage the operation while Claflin sold the shoes in Boston. Recalled late Hopkinton Historian Gordon Hopper in 1988: “At one time it employed 250 people turning out 1200 pairs of shoes daily. The building was well-constructed, its floors being made of three-inch-thick hard pine.”
The factory expanded in 1859 to include five stories, a brick foundation and skylights, and additional buildings. The operation became known as Claflin, Coburn & Co. in 1860, and became the second largest boot and shoe factory in the state, with more than 65 square feet of storage and a 1000-horsepower engine to work the machinery. The factory made 3600 pairs of shoes each day.
The partnership between Claflin and Coburn dissolved in 1870, and a new firm formed under the name of A. Coburn Son & Co. While fire destroyed the factory in 1889, another factory soon took its place, this one 180 feet long, with four floors and a huge annex.
The Hayden Rowe building at various times went through other transitions. According to Riverside Properties, its current owner, 34 Hayden Rowe was once home to F.W Beers & Co. (1875), the W.F Claflin Boot Shop (1899), Andrew Fryberg Arms Co. (1904), and the Hermina Silk Mill (1910). But its next big renaissance would come in 1918.
That is when a thread salesman named Francis S. Cobb bought part of another business and formed Seamans & Cobb Co., which specialized in thread, leather and fabrics for the shoe industry. Cobb established mills in Sharon, then Framingham, but quickly outgrew them. According to the 1922 book Leather and Shoes, “After a time the Framingham mill proved too small, and a larger mill was secured at Hopkinton. The addition of new machinery at two or three periods in the past three years is overcrowding even this mill.”
“F.H. Safford has been in direct charge of the thread end of the business for the past 10 years, and under his supervision neither time nor expense has been spared in producing and perfecting threads especially adapted for the needs of the shoe industry” the book recounts.
Cobb traveled to Europe to find new fabrics and study innovations in shoe construction, and these trips inspired new products and new operations in Hopkinton. The Hayden Rowe factory’s hottest seller was a type of thread called “Japerica Twist,” which was prized for its strength.
Noted one shoe and leather journal of the time: “Japerica Twist might be called an international product, as it is made from yarn spun in England, is manufactured in the North, has been named by a gentleman of the South; and has as its name the first three letters of Japan and the last five letters of America. Of course the name suggests Japan, because of the fact that Japerica Twist has the appearance of Japanest silks of the highest grade.”
Seamans & Cobb continued operations until 1951, when the company merged with the Groves Thread Company and moved to North Carolina. The Hayden Rowe site was dormant for a while, until in 1959 General Packets Co. presented plans to turn it into a packaging factory. After the plans were approved, General Packets renovated the building, hired 75 people and began making small paper packets of salt, pepper and sugar for restaurants, airlines and other businesses. It continued operations until 1968, when San Francisco-based DiGeorgio Corp. bought General Packets.
Beginning in 1998 the property was redeveloped by Fred Grant as a mixed-use commercial building. Today it has 48,150 square feet, with a combination of retail, office and industrial users.