hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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April 4, 2013

Shoe workers efforts, lives should be celebrated

They deserve it.

The many men and women who toiled in Haverhill’s downtown factories for generations, making the city an international shoe-making giant, should have their efforts remembered.

They were the driving force behind the community’s economic lifeblood that made it possible for families to support themselves, to know jobs were there for father and mother and even the kids when they grew up.

A sense of community pride went with coming from the Queen Slipper City — Haverhill’s nickname because of its focus on making women’s shoes.

But by the late 1960s, the industry died out in the city, leaving the shoe shops empty and falling into disrepair.

The change also left Haverhill and its people looking for a new identity. The city has made its way to become a new Haverhill, working in new directions, luring in a variety of businesses and developers who converted the empty downtown factories into apartments, condos, restaurants and shops.

But someone is looking to hold onto that old identity, even restore it in some fashion — and that is a good thing.

Last spring, the city’s Historical Commission embarked on a project to honor the shoe workers who kept the factories and the city’s economy strong for those generations. Commission members said much is known about the general history of that period, but many photos of unidentified people working in shoe shops exist and deserve attention.

Commission members wanted to tell those workers’ stories. They asked the Gazette to help. The newspaper ran a front-page story introducing the project to the public and asking that anyone recognizing people in old shoe factory photos contact the commission.

For the last 10 months, each edition of the Gazette has displayed one of the photos provided by the commission. It worked. Several readers have contacted the commission to identify workers and tell their stories. (See story, Page 1.)

The commission plans to honor the workers by creating a downtown memorial to them in the shadows of the buildings where they toiled. There are also plans to display some of the old photos, along with the stories of those pictured, in locations downtown.

It’s a great plan, and the Gazette is proud to support it.

Hopefully, it brings honor to the people whose sweat helped make Haverhill what it is today.

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