Hampton's Newest Industry is Product of Cooperative Effort

By Wayne I. Elliot

The Hampton Union and The Rockingham County Gazette, March 15 - 22, 1962

[The following article is courtesy of The Hampton Union and The Rockingham County Gazette and Seacoast Online.]

(Part I)

Twenty-eight working days -- that's all it took to construct the building back in 1935 which now houses Hampton's newest industry.

One of Hampton's fabulous and almost unbelievable feats was recently brought to light as the Pearse Leather company of Salem, Mass., headed by owner-manager Ben Pearse, commenced partial operation of what presently promises to be Hampton's largest year round industry. The story of the cooperative effort which gave Hampton its second leather industry just 26 years ago, almost to the month, is in its own way being unfolded again as a former egg distribution and processing building is being transformed into one of New England's finest leather processing plants.

The man behind the 1961-62 effort is Ben Pearse, an energetic, personable man with three generations of family experience in the leather business in his favor. His own workers size him up as an "honest, hardworking young man." Climaxing many months of conferences with Building Inspector Alfred Janvrin and other town officials along with many hearings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Massachusetts firm was given the green light to set up operations late last fall.

The central office and plant for the new firm was previously located in Salem. Mr. Pearse, a present resident of Hamilton, Mass., is completely transferring his entire operation from Salem to Hampton on a full time basis.

Former workers in the building located on Kershaw Avenue off Lafayette Road, would hardly recognize the old environs should they return. The interior of the structure has been completely revamped. Wiring had to be entirely overhauled, heating systems enlarged, and concrete floors poured in portions of the building to hold large pieces of machinery necessary for the leather processing work.

Old partitions were removed and new ones erected. One piece of new machinery after another has been installed, all under the supervision of Mr. Pearse.

Although Mr. Pearse expects renovation and operational setup procedures to take nearly a year before operations are at a maximum peak performance, work has already begun, with the tanned leather arriving constantly and the processed tanned leather being shipped as quickly as work permits.

In brief, the work of the new industry consists of the processing of leather. Tanned, rough leather is converted into beautiful, high finished, quality leather ready to be manufactured into shoes, moccasins, hand bands and wristbands for watches, to mention a few.

Portions of the over all process consist of the "buffing" of the leather. This procedure removes the imperfections of the grain through the use of giant paper abrasives. The dust is also removed from the leather at the beginning of the conversion process. This dust is collected in what actually amounts to a giant vacuum sweeper with 280 bags eight inches in diameter and eight feet long. Dust can be accumulated for nearly a month in the giant hopper located outside the building before it has to be removed. The hopper, when completed, will have have a sprinkler system to combat any fires which might occur.

Further operations include a "mossing" operation which cleans the back of the leather to make it soft and velvety to the touch. In the "seasoning" process which follows, the actual finish, including the various colors, is applied.

The new Hampton plant is unique in that it manufactures all of its many chemicals. As many as 50 colors in one day have been applied to leather for various job orders. Fourteen basic shades make up the initial colors with more than 606 formulas in the working file, allowing workers to make any color in the spectrum. More than 3,000 formulas have been worked out by the firm. Labor throughout the entire process, is highly skilled and, in order to work with leather, Mr. Pearse stated that a great deal of training and knowledge is needed.

Following the application of one or two coats of coloring, the leather is dried with specially constructed hot air machinery. The leather then goes through an "embossing" or "plating" machine which "knocks" the leather down to a smooth surface. Following another seasoning coat, the leather is again plated to obtain the desired sheen. During the plating process which is done under as much as 250 degrees heat and 30 tons of pressure, the desired textures and prints are obtained.

The leather is then measured to determine the footage in each piece, then rolled or bundled and shipped.

Once the plant is ready for normal, fulltime operation, Mr. Pearse expects the average daily output to be 20,000 square feet with a maximum daily capacity of 40,000 square feet. Employment will include approximately 40 persons when peak performance is reached.

Nine members of Mr. Pearse's Massachusetts staff have come with their employer to continue work in the processing business. All are skilled in their various jobs including Ernest Blodgett, James McKinnon, Melvin Walters, Ernest Limataines, Bill Madden, Mrs. Palmyra Maga, John Marco and Joe Louis. The balance of employees are local people.

Also coming with Mr. Pearse was Bob Kaplan, sales manager for the company. Mr. Kaplan summed up the move to New Hampshire with these words: "When I was first asked to drive to Hampton, I surely thought that I was going to see a combination post office and a general store. I was so pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the center of town that I stopped my car and gaped in amazement. I asked various points of information of a police officer who was indeed very cordial.

"To sum up my feelings, you have a most wonderful and progressive town. The local business people with whom we have been dealing have been most co-operative. The local men and women who are working with us are very willing people.

"I am far from an editorialist, but my feelings are sincere, as are those of Mr. Pearse and all his personnel. It is the hope (and with the help of God) that we continue to expand in your town and further enjoy the privileges that this town offers."

This is Hampton industry, 1962, but without the efforts of an equally determined, diligent, forward looking group of citizens back in 1935-36, Hampton's newest industry would probably not be locating at it present spot in the present building. Herein lies a story in itself, which will be reviewed next week.

(Part II)

No story about Hampton's newest industry -- The Pearse Leather Company -- would be complete without a review of the efforts of local citizens 26 years ago to locate new industry in Hampton which can be considered a pioneering program of industrial development as it is known today.

It all started back on October 24, 1935. For many months, discussion had been going on among local townspeople relative to the building of a shoe factory which would employ workers living in Hampton who had previously been compelled to travel great distances for work. Almost overnight a movement originated in which the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce perfected plans for a business which attracted the attention of a firm desiring to locate in Hampton.

On October 30, 1935, interested citizens met at the Greenman Leather Factory on High Street, which is still Hampton's oldest industry excluding that of summer recreation. During the meeting, it was reported that a sum of $6,000 had been realized as a basis towards the building of a structure to house a new industry. Because the firm, then located in Haverhill, Mass., had a lease which expired on January 1, 1936, the committee was pressed for time.

On November 12, 1935, an enthusiastic group assembled at the American Legion Hall to choose officers and appoint a building committee for the purpose of erecting a factory suitable for the manufacture of shoes. For some time tentative plans had been drawn by Mr. Maurice Witmer, a Portsmouth architect who, as district manager for the Federal Housing Board at that time, had been interested in a building of this nature for Hampton.

Thence began one of the greatest co-operative efforts in the history of Hampton. With adequate funds provided by selling stock among townspeople for one dollar per share and matched with Federal aid, officers were elected and plans were laid for what seemed like an impossible ask of construction. In passing, it is interesting to note the list of officers, some of whom have since died, while others are still active Hampton citizens.

Chosen as president was William Brown, long time town clerk and local funeral director. The vice president was Albert Lamie, founder of Lamie's Tavern now retired and living in North Hampton. Elected as treasurer was Charles Greenman, still owner of Greenman's Shoe Factory and Mrs. Wayne Bryer, then Miss Deborah Gale, was elected as secretary. Directors were Joseph Kennedy, Harold W. Winchester, John A. Janvrin, Thomas Cogger, Frank L. Moody, Dana Chase, Cyrus G. Clark, Mrs. Grace Burnham, Arthur L. Penniman, Dean B. Merrill and Arthur P. Heath.

The building committee consisted of John A. Janvrin, father of Hampton's present building inspector; Thomas Moore, a long time local contractor; Arthur Brown, owner and founder of A. W. Brown Plumbing and Heating now operated by his son; John Doe, Edward S. Seavey, Sr., owner of the Hampton Publishing Co.; Dean B. Merrill and Joseph Kennedy.

Within the powers of these citizens lay the seemingly unsurmountable task of raising a building for a new industry in approximately 30 days.

Starting in the face of a New England winter, the contract was awarded to local contractor Thomas Moore. Exceptionally warm weather, however, aided construction as it was announced on November 21, 1935 that the Bradford Shoe Co., of 98 Phoenix Row, Haverhill, Mass., was ready to move to Hampton as soon as the building was completed.

The firm, engaged in the manufacture of women's high grade McKay shoes and men's slippers, giving employment to approximately 200 workers was one of the largest of Haverhill's industries. Daniel O'Leary, president of the new company, was well known throughout the shoe industry as a salesman. Clarence Kershaw, the other partner, served as factory manager.

Assisting in the building of the project were such local contractors as Arthur Brown and Herbert Beede, plumbers: Arthur Heath, A. J. Morse and Roland Emery, with the co-operation of the Exeter and Hampton Electric Co., teamed up to undertake the electrical work. Contractor Moore moved the construction of the building at an unbelievable pace. Wilbur Jewell supplied the heat while William Blake undertook the painting of the window sashes which had been especially hauled to the scene by the J. A. Janvrin Lumber Co.

By December 20, machinery and equipment were being moved into the building. On December 27, 1935, 350 persons gathered in the new building to celebrate. Major Francis Murphy addressed the people. He stated "It is the businesslike solution to the welfare situation to rehabilitate industry in New Hampshire. This state has done almost nothing in this respect. Hampton's citizens have pointed the way for the rest of the state to solve the welfare situation."

Other persons taking part in the celebration were Edward S. Seavey, Sr., acting as toastmaster; and Selectman (chairman) Elroy Shaw and Chamber of Commerce President, John A. Janvrin. Thomas Moore, William Brown and Charles Greenman all spoke of the success of bringing new industry to Hampton. All contractors who had teamed up in one of the greatest co-operative team efforts ever witnessed in Hampton, architect and new owers were present for the celebration.

Thus, 28 working days following the pouring of foundations, the building which houses Hampton's newest industry was completed and occupied. With the future of Hampton's economic situation hanging in the balance, and long range plans calling for many items of construction, present citizens would do well to recall and review the efforts of this gallant band of Hampton citizens of some 26 years ago as citizens salute Mr. Ben Pearse and Hampton's newest industry.