Night falls at the Haines Shoe House.
Shoe House at dusk. It was built with outdoor spotlights so it could always be seen.

Haines Shoe House

Field review by the editors.

Hallam, Pennsylvania

In their bid for immortality, the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt built the pyramids -- and Mahlon Haines built a house shaped like a shoe.

Postcard.
1949 postcard view: easily visible across treeless fields.

Haines (1875-1962) was the over-the-top owner of a chain of shoe stores in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He called himself "The Shoe Wizard" and knew the value of self-promotion. Haines was a three-time honorary Indian chief (Hopi, Iroquois, and Sioux) and rode around his Pennsylvania "Wizard Ranch" in a feather headdress and cowboy outfit. He once held a contest for school kids, with cash prizes, for the best essay describing The Shoe Wizard's fabulous life. He gave free shoes to parents who named their boys "Mahlon." He would stand up at baseball games and offer $20 to anybody who knew who he was.

Mahlon's favorite birthday present, according to his son, was to see his picture in a newspaper. He once donated eight scrapbooks to the local library, filled with nothing but thousands of his own press clippings. It was estimated that reading them all would take more than three continuous days.

Haines brand shoes.
The Shoe House was modeled on a Haines shoe similar to these.

But when The Shoe Wizard reached his 70th birthday he began to realize that stunts only matter as long someone remembers them, and that even the world's largest collection of clippings eventually turns to dust. He needed a more permanent legacy.

Stained glass of the Shoe Wizard.
Stained glass Shoe Wizard greets visitor at the front door.

That's when Mahlon took a trip to Southern California. He saw architectural eye-grabbers such as a whiskey barrel liquor store and a motel shaped like a teepee. The idea for a Shoe House was born. The story goes that Mahlon took a work boot from one of his stores, handed it to architect Frederick Rempp, and said, "Build me a house like this."

The boot was one of his best-selling items, and the House was built just off the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway, so everyone could see it.

Completed in the spring of 1949, the Shoe House stands 25 feet high and 48 feet long. Mahlon never lived in it. Instead, he turned the House into a promotional prize. The lucky winners (limited to newlyweds and elderly couples who'd never had a honeymoon) could spend up to a week in the Shoe -- served by a live-in maid, cook, and chauffeur. Everyone went home with a free pair of shoes.

Mahlon Haines continued to get his face in the papers and died at 87, remarkably fit for his age. The Shoe House cycled through a several subsequent owners and settled into a comfortable groove as a Lincoln Highway attraction and landmark.

Jeff and Melanie Schmuck bought the place in 2015, vowing to preserve it and keep it open for tours. "I've always liked quirky, unusual things," Jeff told us. "A giant shoe is about as good as it gets."

A short drive up Shoe House Road leads to the big cream-yellow boot with a brown sole. There's a shoe mailbox out front, and a boot-decorated fence surrounds the yard. The dog house is shaped like a boot. Every window in the Shoe House is decorated with a stained-glass shoe. The front door frames a stained-glass portrait of Haines, holding shoes.

RoadsideAmerica team first visited the Shoe House in 1985. Later restored.
RoadsideAmerica team first visited the Shoe House in 1985, before its restoration.

Today, as then, the house is cramped by the geometry of shoe architecture, with the tour guide gesturing to Shoe Wizard-abilia around the corner while visitors duck the occasionally sloping ceiling and carefully avoid putting elbows through the stained-glass windows. On display are historic photos, boxes of Haines shoes, and promotional items devised by the Wizard, nearly all of them emblazoned with his face. A hatch in one room allows visitors to peek behind the wall at the hidden woodwork that holds the Shoe House together.

Shoe Doghouse.
Back yard Shoe Doghouse was built along with the big shoe.

The House has five different levels with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room, lots of little staircases, and a rooftop terrace currently closed for liability reasons. The honeymoon suite is in the toe, the kitchen is in the heel. Space is at a premium. It's amazing that live-in servants could fit into the Shoe with all the rollicking newlyweds and seniors. We understand now why 1950s suburbia didn't spawn endless rows of shoe houses.

On one of our visits we were lucky to meet Irene Klein, one of the original Shoe House honeymooners. As our tour group jammed into the toe parlor, Irene told of her and hubby Russell's week-long stay in 1950, all expenses paid by the Shoe Wizard -- who they never actually met. Irene's sister Olive worked in a Haines Shoe Store in Lewisburg, and secretly submitted their names as candidates for a Shoe House vacation. What did Irene recall about the Haines stores? "All the shoes were $1.98."

According to Jeff, the only current difficulty with the Shoe House is finding contractors skilled enough to work on it. But its bones are solid, and as long as it stands, the name of Mahlon Haines will not be forgotten. And that was the whole point.

Also see: Shoe Building, Bakersfield, CA | Shoe House, Webster, SD

Haines Shoe House

Address:
197 Shoe House Rd, Hallam, PA
Directions:
US-30 exit onto PA-462 at Hallam. Drive south a quarter-mile, then bear right at the stoplight onto PA-462/Lincoln Hwy. Drive one mile. Turn right (no stoplight) onto Shoe House Rd. Drive a half-mile to the Shoe, on the left.
Hours:
11-5. Property gated after hours. Summer W-Su, Spring and Fall F-Su. Closed Nov-Mar. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
717-683-6328
Admission:
Adults $5.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

USA Weightlifting Hall Of FameUSA Weightlifting Hall Of Fame, York, PA - 6 mi.
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Grave of Mack, Noble Fire HorseGrave of Mack, Noble Fire Horse, York, PA - 7 mi.
In the region:
Edgar Allan Poe's Two Graves, Baltimore, MD - 49 mi.

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October 26, 2020

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