- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

HELLAM, Pa. — There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. Actually, though 77-year-old Ruth Miller owned the 25-foot-tall beige stucco replica of a man’s work boot, she didn’t actually live there.With three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and living room, however, the giant shoe was livable enough.

For the past eight years, Mrs. Miller was the tour guide for curious motorists who stopped by the Haines Shoe House on Shoe House Road, just a few miles east of the city of York.

But Mrs. Miller and her 75-year-old husband, Charles, decided in June to put the house up for sale (asking price, $129,000) because they wanted to spend a few years traveling and wouldn’t have been able to manage the house at the same time. They were the attraction’s only employees.

“This morning, I’m just sitting here contemplating. I really miss it already, because I just loved that place. I still do,” Mrs. Miller said just two days after closing on the sale. “If we’d have been younger, it would have never been for sale.”

The shoe house, built in 1948, is considered an example of “programmatic architecture,” or buildings that resemble the products that are sold inside. Others, now regarded as kitschy roadside oddities of a bygone era, include the Coffee Pot luncheonette in Bedford; the Big Duck in Flanders, N.Y.; a shell-shaped Shell gas station in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and the Tail o’ the Pup hot-dog stand in Los Angeles.

Most were built between 1910 and 1960, and are directly related to the growing popularity of automobiles, said Bert Bedeau, president of the Society for Commercial Archeology, which is devoted to studying and preserving 20th-century commercial signage and architecture.

“The traditional way of attracting pedestrians was a sign, and somebody walking along at three miles an hour would notice the sign. That sign blends into the background when you’re going along at 35, 45, 55 miles per hour, so some retailers decided they needed to make their premises stand out,” Mr. Bedeau said.

The shoe house was conceived by Mahlon N. Haines, an Old Washington, Ohio, native who moved to York County in his early 20s and founded the Haines Shoe Co. At its height, the company had more than 40 stores in central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.

He hired a local architect to base the design on one of his company’s shoes as an advertising gimmick. Among other promotions, Mr. Haines invited honeymooners from any town with one of his stores to stay free for a weekend at the house, where they were provided a cook, a maid and a chauffeur.

The layout is similar to that of a modern spilt-level home, with the honeymoon suite in the toe of the boot, the kitchen one floor above the heel, and servant quarters and a bathroom on the top story.

Stained-glass windows throughout the house repeat the shoe motif, and the window in the front door incorporates an advertising photo of Mr. Haines with a shoe balanced on the fingertips of his right hand.

Thirteen-year-old Alex Drescher, of neighboring Springettsbury Township, and his older brother and younger sister were among a handful of visitors who took in a tour on a recent afternoon.

“I think it would be fun to stay in it, but I wouldn’t like to live here,” he said afterward, as the three of them ate ice cream scooped by Mr. Miller in the basement, located in the heel of the shoe.

Mrs. Miller remembered seeing the house under construction, a sight that led other neighbors to conclude that Mr. Haines — who also preached the virtues of good health with such fervor that he offered cash to smokers on the street if they promised to quit — “must have gone senile.”

“Some people called him eccentric, some called him an oddball. He had all kinds of names, because he had his own ideas about everything,” she said.

When Mr. Haines died in 1962 at age 87, he left the shoe house to his employees, who sold it to a dentist two years later. It operated for about 20 years as an ice cream parlor, and building tours also were available.

Mr. Haines’ granddaughter, Annie, bought the house in 1987 and renovated it, but eventually had to give up the property when the bank repossessed it because she had been unable to keep up with the expense of maintaining it, Mrs. Miller said. The granddaughter did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The foreclosure sale in the local newspaper caught Mrs. Miller’s attention, and a rumor that some prospective buyers wanted to move it out of state fueled her interest even more.

“This is where it belongs,” she said. “If you move it out of here, the meaning would be all gone.”

The new owner, Carleen Farabaugh, has assured her that the shoe will stay firmly planted in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Farabaugh, who declined to reveal the purchase price, said she plans to maintain the tours and hopes to expand the operating hours in the summer.

“I really fell in love with it the minute I saw it,” Mrs. Farabaugh said. “The historical side is fantastic. It’s something we need to pass on to our children.”

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