The O’Donnell Shoe Factory

“A new $100,000 shoe factory, employing between 900 and 1,000 workmen, is being erected by the O’Donnell Shoe Co. in St. Paul. William O’Donell is president of the company. The directors include Charles Patterson, George J. Freeman, William F. Enright and Andrew J. Schmitz. At present O’Donnel Shoe Co. employs 500 hands and is building a new factory in order to branch into the manufacture of women’s and children’s shoes. Between 1500 and 1600 new citizens will be brought to St. Paul as a result of the new factory as nearly all experienced shoe hands in St. Paul are at present employed. The corporation has a capital of $25,000. Mr. O’Donnel has been engaged in the manufacture of shoes for more than twenty years…”

American Shoemaking Volume 52, 1914

The shoe industry was booming when the O’Donnell Shoe Company built a shiny new factory in St. Paul. The building designed by the Butler Brothers, is one of the last old shoe factory buildings in the city. The son of Irish immigrant farmers, William O’Donnell built his first factory on the corner of Sibley and East 10th in 1909. Five years later the The six-story, 67,000 square-foot building pictured above was completed across the street at 509 Sibley Street.The two buildings were connected with a tunnel. In 1928, O’Donnell became the largest shoe manufacturer in Minnesota. The stock market crash and the great depression dealt a double blow to the Minnesota’s shoe business. Southern states attracted manufacturers with fewer unions and fewer wages. After 35,000 truckers and building trades workers walked out as part of the Minneapolis Teamster’s Strike of 1934, the O’Donnell Shoe Company decided to pull up stakes. The company moved operations to Humbolt, Tennessee in 1935.

Odonnell4

Back in St. Paul the old Lowertown factory was leased to the Market Seed Company and Albert Wholesale Produce. In 1999 the O’Donnell Shoe Company building was renovated for a retail and housing development called the Renaissance Box. In 2006, a nonprofit affordable housing developer called Aeon purchased the building and created 70 affordable housing units, an art studio ,a green roof, and gallery space for residents. Renaissance Box was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.