I can’t believe this but when I changed blogs I lost my original piece about the Shoe House in York, PA. Well, this will give me another chance to tell you how wonderful it is! I wanted to include it in my first book on small museums, but in its past incarnations the Shoe House never really qualified as such—it was more roadside America post-World War II architecture tourist attraction. Now, finally, it is what I have always believed it was meant to be.
Mary the Photographer and I haven’t been on the road much lately (not nearly enough!) so there hasn’t been much to write about. Today, though, we decided it was time to open the sunroof and head somewhere. When I found out that she—proud native of West York, PA—had never toured the Shoe House, I couldn’t believe it. I had to right that wrong. When I lived on the east side of York, I took every house guest I could to see it. If it wasn’t open, I just pulled the car up so they could look at it.
The Shoe House was built in 1948 by the Shoe Wizard, Mahlon Haines. Quite the entrepreneur, he owned a shoe company and used every opportunity to promote his business—cosmetic mirrors, fans, pencils—but his most ingenious idea was to build a shoe for people to stay in. Hence the Shoe House, a three-bedroom, two-bath architectural wonder, a honeymoon haven for lucky couples chosen by Haines.
I often toured the house in the 1990s and 2000s, as friends came to town and I said, “You have to see the Shoe House!” Tour guides and the accompanying stories changed as the house changed hands. At one point Haines’s own granddaughter owned it. Some of my favorite tours were done by Ruth Miller, who was passionate about York County history and feared that if she didn’t rescue it someone else would buy it and move it out of town.
Today the Shoe House is owned by Melanie and Jeff Schmuck. In addition to Beck’s ice cream, Melanie has added other goodies, all for sale in the heel, a cheerful spot with tables and photos of the Shoe through history. The tour starts in the wonderfully decorated living room and ends in the kitchen; I won’t give it all away, but visitors should take the time to look at the photographs on the walls, the artifacts on display (what makes it a "museum"). One shadow box contains a metal box, a pencil, and some cosmetic mirrors gifted to the Shoe House from a 90-some-year-old neighbor who said she watched the Shoe House being built! Photos include pictures of some of the first honeymooners in the Shoe.
The latest incarnation of the Shoe House is both popular and loved; when Mary and I visited, we were with a woman who was pleased to have recently found one of the Shoe Wizard’s metal boxes at a flea market. We had to wait for a tour to finish and there was another group right after us—on a weekday! It was a gorgeous day and we spent time talking with Melanie and walking around outside to take pictures. After our tour, we treated ourselves to a wonderful lunch at the Blue Heron, just down the road. (El Serrano is right nearby as well!) If you haven’t filled up on goodies, either one is an excellent choice. But you have to see the Shoe House!
Photo of kitchen by Mary Brenner