Connolly Shoe Company Building
by Robert Molenda
Back in 1905 the people in Stillwater, twenty-four in number, were worried about what was going to happen in Stillwater when the lumber boom ran out of trees. One of the resources that they had was a manager of the shoe shop at the Territorial Prison. He put people to work making shoes and they turned out to be of very good quality, made of leather, sturdy and almost waterproof. The concerned citizens financed a building for the purpose of manufacturing work shoes for men and boys. This would help secure employment for citizens and help out the local economy. Mr. Thomas F. Connolly was the manager of the prison shoe shop and he became the manufacturing manager of the new enterprise. The building had three floors, good lighting and lots of open space for modern machinery for making shoes. Mr. J.J. Eichten was named President and Mr. E. Torinus was named Vice-president. The Eichten and Torinus names are well-known since the early days of Stillwater and its genesis in the lumber industry. Were they some of the original investors ? It was located across Second Street from the Sawyer house and would be near the new Post Office.
There is a tunnel under Commercial Street that links the factory with the retail store across the street. The tunnel is still there today. The Connolly shoe company went out of business in the late 1960’s. I remember the building being used for Zero King Outerwear back in the 1970’s. Solid as a rock ! The painted signage is still there if you look for it on the south side of the building. Faded with stories, but still there. What do you do with 27,000 square feet of unused space ?
There are some unnamed citizens who partnered to buy this building a few years ago and re-purpose it for a variety of opportunities. Sather Photography started the JX Event Venue for weddings and corporate events. The upper floors can hold a lot of people. Then there is the Velveteen Speakeasy, hidden away in the basement. There is the Stillwater Escape Company, where you have to figure out how to get out of a room after you are locked in. Down on the Northeast end of the building is a micro-brewery called “Three Kettles Brewing”. It is a long way from the lumber mills, and the prison industry of making shoes, but there still is a lot of creativity going on in this place that we call home. The one thing in common between then and now is a group of 24 citizens formed the original Connolly Shoe Company, while a few other citizens formed a group to buy the vacant building and do some creative things with it. This is what we are really made of in Stillwater. We should all take a break and see what history is in the making in 2018 for this venerable old building.
The History of The St. Croix Valley, Augustus B. Easton, ;Cooper Jr& Co., Chicago, Ill., 1909
Brent Peterson, Director of the WC Historical Society, Stillwater Gazette, September 27, 2013
Mary Divine, St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 23, 2015;
Kevin Giles, Star Tribune; December 23, 2016:
Clare Kennedy; Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, July 17, 2015: