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The Rich History of the Halifax Shoe Industry

By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member

February 27, 2023

Artifacts of Willits and other Halifax shoe companies from decades past.


Willits and Beyond

Now known to be little more than a quiet, pass-through town, Halifax, Pennsylvania, was once the epicenter of many industries that serviced the East Coast of the United States, namely the shoe-making industry.


The first shoe-maker in the area and nephew to George Shaeffer (one of the founders of Halifax), William Kelly, started operating in his trade in 1820. This eventually spawned the future creation of a large handful of shoe companies, including the Halifax Shoe Company (founded 1890 until its business liquidation in 1925), Johnson & Baillie Shoe Co. and Prenzel & Co.


Prenzel & Co., founded in 1898, operated for a time before splitting due to the two business owners butting heads over differences. As a result, one of the owners formed his own shoe company in Halifax: Ryan Shoe Company, which rivaled Prenzel & Co. for a time. Later, yet another business, Willits Shoe Company, bought out Ryan.


Becoming the most famed and successful in its line of predecessors, Willits was in operation from 1917 to 1999 (production of shoes ceased in 1997). After many decades of shoe-making and servicing its highly marketed products across the country and even internationally, Willits was sold out to factories in China, Russia and Mexico, bringing an end to the cobbler's era in Halifax.


The Display

Yesterday, a special presentation and display showed the rich history of the numerous shoe companies that had prospered in Halifax. Halifax Area Historical Society Board Member, Danean Walker, gave in-depth tours and knowledge of said history to a number of local visitors.


The special event brought out about 25 visitors all of whom showed interest at the prospect of such depth in Halifax's industrial past.

HAHS Board Member Danean Walker (far left) looks on as visitors embrace the rich history of the Halifax shoe industry.


The Stories That Surround Us...

With such a profound amount of history often right under our very noses and in the smallest of places, it should make us stop for a moment or two in our busy lives and wonder: what happened in this town? In this field? In this small part of America? In doing so, we will often come to find that some of the most interesting stories come not from social media or that vast Interweb place...but right in our own towns. And within our own families.


For more information on the Halifax Area Historical Society's upcoming events, check out the Events page or give us a shout at halifax.pa.history@gmail.com. We would love to hear from you!



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