Shoe House Flashback: York's old boot reopens for customers
Editor's note: This article was originally published April 9, 2004.
Mahlon Haines didn't arrive in York County on his own shoe leather, as perhaps would have been more fitting.
Jilted by his fiance, Haines pocketed the engagement ring, climbed on a bicycle and left his home in Ohio in 1905, headed for Washington, D.C.
As the family story goes, the bicycle gave out here in York and Haines had found his new home. He hocked the ring and used the money to buy 10 pairs of shoes from the Hanover Shoe Farms, which he turned around and sold for a small profit.
The next week, he used the money to buy 12 pairs and "The Shoe Wizard," as Haines would eventually dub himself, had found his niche.
Mike Weaver, a local historian, has written an account of Haines' life. He calls him "an amazing old chap," who was as known for his creative marketing as well as his inexpensive shoes.
"He truly, truly is the perfect example of the entrepreneur that makes good in life," Weaver said.
Known for his gimmicks, he kept a herd of bison in a field by his store to draw attention and shoppers. He hosted Wild West shows for the Boy Scouts every year.
In 1948, he built his most enduring attraction, the Haines Shoe House, as a way to garner publicity for his 40-plus shoe stores.
Free vacations were given away to both senior citizens and honeymooners stay at the shoe-shaped architectural oddity, which can be seen today from Route 30.
Carleen and Ronald Farabaugh are the latest entrepreneurs to take a stab at the turning the Haines Shoe House into a money-making attraction.
After Haines died in 1962, the house was taken over by a local dentist, who turned it into an ice cream parlor. Since then, a succession of owners purchased the oddly shaped building, running tours and selling snacks at the site.
The Farabaughs bought the building in September and will begin the summer tour season tomorrow by hosting an official grand opening.
After Carleen Farabaugh closed Mom's Kitchen, a local fixture in Newberry Township, she was looking for another, smaller project to tackle. When she saw the building, she was hooked.
"It just fascinated me," she said. "I'm not quite sure why."
Like Farabaugh, people are drawn to the Shoe House. In the few months she has been open, Farabaugh has had visitors from Germany, Israel and Australia, she said.
In addition to continuing the tours, she also plans to open a snack bar at the house, selling such items as hot dogs and homemade soups.
Weaver and Haines' grandson, Mahlon Haines III, will be attending the grand opening, as well as former guests of the Shoe House.
Farabaugh says the Haines' legacy needs to be passed on.
"He taught us valuable lessons," she said. "Everything he made, he gave back to the community."
Priscilla and Harold Martin stayed in the Shoe House in September 1950. They were married Aug. 31 of that year and Priscilla requested the use of the house.
So, free of charge, the couple, who today live in Lititz, spent the week surrounded by the building's odd touches, such as the stained-glass window in Haines' image and the matching dog-house also shaped like a shoe. A maid provided breakfast each morning and in the evening, they were chauffeured to a different restaurant, all expenses paid.
A 20-year-old student at Millersville College at the time, Harold Martin spent his days in class, while his 16-year-old wife wrote out thank-you notes for their wedding gifts.
"We were kind of on cloud nine," said Harold Martin, who went on to teach at Spring Grove Junior High for 27 years.
The Martins will be at tomorrow's event, only the second time they have revisited the Shoe House since their honeymoon. Their last visit was about 10 years ago.
"It changed little," Harold Martin said.