Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company
Beacon Falls, CT

Beacon Falls Aerial View
Beacon Falls Aerial View

View of Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Factory and worker's housing beyond on the hill from above North Main Street

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Fieldstone Walls
Fieldstone Walls

Tuckpointed, portland cement mortar fieldstone walls that retain grade and define the public-private realm, at Wolfe Avenue and Burton Road

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Natural Backdrop
Natural Backdrop

Rocky environs of Naugatuck State Forest provide a dramatic backdrop to the active recreation fields at Laurel Ledge Elementary School

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Beacon Falls Aerial View
Beacon Falls Aerial View

View of Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Factory and worker's housing beyond on the hill from above North Main Street

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Aerial view courtesy of the Town of Beacon Falls. Additional imagery taken from Google Street View.

Prior to World War I, the "Hill" of Beacon Falls was a loosely settled collection of farmhouses and modest homes centered around the southern portions of Wolfe Avenue and Maple Avenue. A school house (now Town Hall), a few tennis courts, and a baseball diamond constituted the other major landmarks in the neighborhood. The roads were crudely made, travelled paths with narrow widths and steep grades. At the bottom of the hill lies the former Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company complex, now apartments.

 

In its heyday, demand for the company's "Top Notch" boots experienced significant growth, from just 150 pairs in 1899 to over 5.5 million pairs by 1920. The town's population more than doubled from 623 to 1,600 over a similar timeframe1 . George and Tracy Lewis, owners of the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company, anticipated that the unimproved neighborhood atop the hill could best serve their needs for the factory's growing workforce due to its proximity.

 

The company hired the landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers to review the existing conditions of the land and devise the most economical means of subdividing it for workforce housing. George and Tracy Lewis2 envisioned a village-like feel for the new community. Amenities such as a central park, ballfields, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a running track promoted good health and mental well-being. A movie theater and assembly hall (with bowling alley!) provided modern options for entertainment and relaxation. The distinct separation between the commercial and industrial areas along lower Main Street and the verdant civic and residential community atop the hill reflects an early example of land planning principles.

The steep grades of the hill, deterrents to prior development, became strong design elements in the landscape through careful study. The Olmsted Brothers road layout undulates and curves to follow more natural contours of the land rather than a traditional orthogonal grid. This effect is noticeable in the straightline roads of Wolfe Avenue, Maple Avenue, and Highland Avenue which preceded the subdivision.

 

Curves in the road also work to frame views and suggest dominant paths for travel. A prominent example is the stone steps and copse of trees near at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Burton Road which draw the viewer's eye leftward, towards Town Hall and the heart of the village. Another intersection that originally had this visual element was South Circle and Maple Avenue, but with the dominant view towards the rocky ledge and wooded ridgeline. The copse of trees in the road island have since been lost, so the visual cue is no longer as obvious.

 

In locations where topography is excessively steep, the landscape architects called for natural fieldstone walls to hold up the grade. As these walls follow the roads, their height varies, and they gradually recede into the landscape as the viewer reaches the top or bottom of the hill. The choice of grey color, portland cement mortar keeps joints subtle and less intrusive than a bright lime mortar.

The landscape architects also provided suggestions on the architecture of the company-owned residences, offering aesthetic guidance on the proportions and materials that would best complement the effect of the subdivision. Selections for trellises, foundations, accent plantings, and chimneys offered opportunities to connect the built environment with the natural one. Their sketches show hint at Craftsman-style bungalows and Colonial Revival homes, many of which were built throughout the neighborhood. 

While much of the original plans were implemented, the sudden death of Tracy Lewis in 1921 at age 47 halted further progress. Many of the planned home lots lay vacant for a time, and some of the planned outdoor amenities were put on indefinite hold.

 

Portions of Highland Avenue, Church Street, and Beacon Street were later developed without fidelity to the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company subdivision approach. The Olmsted Brothers had anticipated a broken-back curve to Church Street that would allow them to gradually work the roadway down the hill and provide buildable lots on both sides. Unfortunately, the builders merely followed the existing crude roadways, missing an opportunity to complete the Lewis Family vision for a unified, village center community around their manufacturing facility. Nevertheless, the neighborhood is an excellent, intact example of a planned subdivision and how landscape architecture can work to make it a memorable and meaningful place to live for over a century.

Historic Plans & Images

Predevelopment Conditions
Predevelopment Conditions

Existing dwelling, trees, and land features.

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1917 Subdivision Plan
1917 Subdivision Plan

Olmsted Brothers recommended subdivision layout scheme, similar to what was built.

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1934 Beacon Falls Fairchild Aerial
1934 Beacon Falls Fairchild Aerial

1934 aerial photograph of the neighborhood showing the new homes and streets approximately a decade after development.

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Predevelopment Conditions
Predevelopment Conditions

Existing dwelling, trees, and land features.

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Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

 

Project Data and Further Reading

Job # 6222   (1915 -1918)

This site is
OPEN for public visits, with expected limitations for accessing private property. Visitors can find parking and other accommodations at Beacon Falls Town Hall (10 Maple Ave, Beacon Falls, CT 06403) during regular business hours. Town staff are not affiliated with the Olmsted Legacy Trail and are not equipped to answer questions or offer directions.

Scans of Original Plans and Documents
1: ConnecticutHistory.org: Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company Puts Best Foot Forward
2: CTExplored.org: Snappy Style from Beacon Falls: The Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company
3: Olmsted Legacy Trail: Tracy S. Lewis House (Job #6371)
4: CT State Library: 1934 Fairchild Aerial Survey Photograph 03303