HISTORY

ASSOCIATION FACTORY NO. 3

1915 - CONSTRUCTION

The Merrimac Mill Office Building, which was originally referred to as "Association Factory No. 3", was built by the Newburyport Building Association in 1915 as a shoe factory.

 

The Newburyport Building Association was a group of local businessmen which assembled in March 1908 with the purpose of promoting the funding and construction of new factory buildings in Newburyport. In order to attract new industry to the city, they would sell "shares" to both local businesses and ordinary citizens, who were often referred to as "subscribers" of the project. In the case of "Association Factory No. 3," a share cost $5 per month for three-years.

The project was proposed on July 27, 1915, and a tenant, Levirs & Sargent (a shoe manufacturer in Lynn) was secured and promised to bring work for 250 people to the city of Newburyport. Fundraising began on July 28, 1915, when a committee was selected to canvas the city and obtain subscribers.

 

 

 

 

 

From The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center / Daily News of Newburyport

By July 30, 1915, all of the required 160 shares had been sold and because enthusiasm for the project was so great, the sale of shares continued well-past the original goal. At the same time, the proposed building's tenant visited Newburyport to view available building sites and the property at the bottom of Green Street, 44 Merrimac Street, was selected. On August 4, 1915, preliminary work began and ground was broken on Monday August 9, 1915, which officially started the construction of Factory No. 3. The Architect was George W. Griffin of Concord, NH and the general contractor was Kelly Brothers Contractors of Haverhill, MA.

From the collections of the Museum of Old Newbury

Construction moved at a rapid pace through the fall of 1915. On October 7, 1915, it was declared in a Newburyport Daily News article that the tenant, Levirs & Sargent, had requested a fourth story be added to the building (which was still under construction at the time). By November 11, 1915, the windows for the building had arrived and by December 12, 1915, one floor was ready for occupancy. During early January 1916, the manufacturing equipment had been installed and Association Factory No. 3 was ready for the production of shoes to begin.

On January 11, 1916, there was a banquet organized for the dedication of the new "Association Factory No. 3" building. It was held on the first floor (street level) in the storefront area of the building with over 300 people in attendance. The event featured many notable speakers of the era, large spreads of catered food and a full orchestra playing for the crowd. It was at this gathering that fundraising began for the construction of "Association Factory No. 4," which was to be an extension of the N.D. Dodge Shoe Co. on Prince Place & Hale's Court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center / Daily News of Newburyport /

In an article dated March 10, 1916, from the Newburyport Daily News, a journalist was given a tour of "Factory No. 3" which was described as a "modern model factory."  It was during this tour that the first lots of shoes manufactured in the building were being finished and made ready for shipment around the country.

1917 - 1933

By later in the year of 1916, Levirs & Sargent was out of business. On January 22, 1917, an announcement was made that Sears, Roebuck  & Co. had purchased Factory No. 3 from the Newburyport Building Association. By this time, they had already began making interior changes to suit their production needs and planned to start production of 3,000 pairs of shoes per day. However, by May 1917, Sears, Roebuck & Co. ran out of space and the size of the building became inadequate for their needs. They sought larger accommodations and vacated the building, however Sears, Roebuck & Co. retained ownership of the vacant building.

From The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center / Daily News of Newburyport

On May 12, 1917, the Three Line Counter Co. leased the building from Sears, Roebuck & Co. This was a New Hampshire manufacturer that produced a fiber shoe counter at the rate of 150,000 pairs per day.

 

From the collections of the Museum of Old Newbury

 

In the early 1930's Three Liner Counter Co. had moved to a New Hampshire mill town, leaving the building vacant. There are records showing that the building was sold to a trust in an auction at that time; however, it is not clear that anyone leased the building, and by all accounts it sat vacant for a short period of time. By 1934, it was again owned by the Newburyport Building Association.

 

1934 - 1937

On May 19, 1934 what was known as the "Million Dollar Fire of 1934" broke out at the Dodge Bros Shoe Company on the corner of Rt1 and Merrimac Street. Nearly all of the buildings between Rt 1 and Factory No. 3 at 44 Merrimac Street were a total loss. The fire left more than 500 people unemployed, 15 families homeless and caused more than $1 million in damage (equal to over $20 million today). 

 

 

 

From the collections of the Newburyport Public Library Archives

 

Factory No. 3 was spared in the fire, however the neighboring building to the West, which was also one of the four Newburyport Building Association factories, burned and was a total loss. At that time, the aforementioned building (commonly known as the "George A. Learned" building) was occupied by the "Fisher Shoe Company", which was displaced due to the fire. On June 1, 1934 the Newburyport Building Association agreed to fit up the vacant neighboring "Factory No. 3" for the Fisher Shoe Company to take occupancy of.

Only several months after taking occupancy of "Factory No. 3," labor disputes between the Fisher Shoe Company and the United Shoe & Leather Workers Union began to crop up. By following the historical newspaper articles it is clear that between 1934 and 1935 countless labor disputes, walkouts, company lockouts and picket lines occurred at Factory No. 3. Typically, these disputes occurred every couple of months and would result in the Fisher Shoe Company threatening to move out of Newburyport, thus forcing concessions from the union and it's members. By November 4, 1935, the Fisher Shoe Company moved out of Newburyport by finding factory accommodations in Jamaica Plain, which left Factory No. 3 vacant.

 

 

 

 

From The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center / Daily News of Newburyport

Labor issues followed the Fisher Shoe Company in similar fashion to their new Jamaica Plain factory. In historical newspapers there are many references of fines for labor law violations, legal battles between the company and union, and continuous picket lines. On March 18, 1936 the Fisher Shoe Company announced that they still held a lease through July 1936 for Factory No. 3 at 44 Merrimac Street and hoped to return to their business Newburyport due to their continued labor issues in Jamaica Plain. There is no evidence that this move actually took place, and by all accounts Factory No. 3 remained vacant from 1936 to 1938. 
 

1938 - 1963

By late 1938 the Ruth Shoe Company, which was located in Salisbury, purchased the building and began operations in what was still referred to at the time as "the best-laid-out modern industrial plant in New England."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center / Daily News of Newburyport

A condition of their move to Newburyport involved some improvements to the building to be paid by the City of Newburyport through use of the "Local Industrial Fund." At that time many cities competed to bring industry to their respective communities, and while controversial, this use of funds was seen as necessary to bring Ruth Shoe to Newburyport. Ruth Shoe came to Newburyport already employing 450 people, eventually increasing to 650 people. 

As evidenced by historical newspapers, it was not until around 1958 that Ruth Shoe began to have financial issues due to a slowing of the shoe industry in the United States. It was at that time they also took on the names of Mark Alan Shoes and Port Shoe Company. 

Ruth Shoe was one of the last, if not the last, remaining shoe factories in Newburyport after the collapse of the Newburyport shoe industry. In 1963, the company faced bankruptcy. An auction of assets was held and the Small Business Administration purchased the building at that January 1964 auction.

1964 - 1979

On August 19, 1964, Henry Tracy, the first generation of the present-day building owners, purchased the building from the Small Business Administration.  For over a decade, Tracy operated his business, Geonautics, at 44 Merrimac Street; specializing in the development and production of reinforced plastic composites for technical applications.

 

Many notable development projects occurred within the building during it's final industrial era. Some of these projects included the development of the PASGT Ballistic Helmets for the U.S. Army, development and production of rocket nozzles for various US Military missile projects, and the development and fabrication of offshore navigational buoys for the U.S. Coast Guard.

From the personal collections of the Tracy family

1980 - PRESENT DAY

By the late 1970's Geonautics had outgrown the size of the building and moved out to different accommodations, while still retaining ownership of the building. Once again sitting vacant, it was just prior to 1980, during the era of urban renewal in Newburyport, when Janet Tracy had the vision for repurposing the empty building into office space. She began renovations after securing a large tenant who took the entire top floor of the building. It took more than another decade to complete the full renovation of this building, tenant by tenant. 

From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, recorded by Mary Jane Stirgwolt, 1980

 

It has been 40 years since the building was first renovated from factory mill space into modern office space, and nearly 60 years since Henry Tracy purchased the building, which is the longest continuous single use and owner in the building's storied history.

 

"Association Factory No. 3" is a building that was originally  constructed as a cooperative effort by local business leaders through community investment to bring industry, jobs and commerce to the city of Newburyport. Over 100 years later, now known as the Merrimac Mill Office Building, it is still serving it's originally intended purpose of being a local economic driver by housing over 40 businesses that employ more than 250 local people within the City Of Newburyport.

We are constantly learning more about the history of this fine old mill building and we intend to update this page with each new piece of history we find through our search. If you have any information, photos, or even stories of the building to share, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Geonautics Composite Buoy
Newburyport Daily News Ruth Shoe Buys Factory Merrimac Street
The Million Dollar Fire of 1934 Newburyp
Fisher Shoe Company Newburyport, MA
Sears & Robuck Buy Factory No. 3 Newbury
From the collections of the Museum of Old Newbury
Building Dedication, 1916-01-11.jpeg
Campaign For New Factory, 2 Pages, 1915-
From the collections of the Museum of Ol
44 Merrimac Street
 

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