- Written by Todd Moning
Hellam, a small town in south-central Pennsylvania, has a lot of sole. And heel. And toe.
Shoe House, in particular, sports these traits, thanks to shoe magnate Mahlon N. Haines, known as "The Shoe Wizard."
The Shoe House is a 25-foot stucco replica of a high-top work boot. Besides a sole, heel and toe, this shoe has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. And ice cream.
After a succession of owners, the architectural oddity reopened in April 2004 as an ice cream parlor and tourist attraction.
Mahlon Haines had the Shoe House built in 1948 as an advertising gimmick. He was 73 at the time, and had earned millions from his shoe sales empire in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The wood-framed house, covered in wire lath, is 48 feet long and 17 feet wide at its widest point. It has five different mini-levels.
Shoe décor abounds. The stained-glass window in the front door portrays Haines holding up a pair of boots. It's the same pose used in ads for his shoe stores.
A shoe-shaped doghouse rests out back, and shoe cutouts run along the wooden fence that surrounds the property.
"It's not just a facade built like a shoe house; it is a shoe house inside and out," said Ruth Miller, a local woman who owned the house for eight years.
Originally, Haines used Shoe House as a guesthouse. He invited elderly couples to spend the weekend and live like "kings and queens" at his expense. As a publicity stunt in 1950, he let honeymooners stay there for free, as long as they came from a town that had a Haines shoe store.
Haines died in 1962 and left the house to his employees. They sold it in 1964 to a local dentist, who operated it for the next 20 years as an ice cream parlor (on the first floor) and also offered tours.
A granddaughter of Haines bought the house in 1987 with plans to turn it into a bed and breakfast. That didn't pan out, and Ruth Miller bought the house at a foreclosure sale in 1995. She and her husband continued renovation and opened it as a tourist attraction and ice cream parlor, once again.
The Shoe House, which sits atop a knoll overlooking the York County countryside, is a registered historic landmark in York County. "People from all over know about it," Miller said. "They use it as a landmark when traveling. When riding along on route 30, kids would tell their parents, 'We're just about home. There's the Shoe House.'"
In 2003 Miller, who is 80 years old, sold Shoe House to Carleen and Farabaugh. Miller requested that the house remain open to tourists, and it has. Farabaugh has expanded the ice cream shop to include a snack bar and gift shop. The rest of the house is a museum dedicated to Haines' life.
Miller said she sold the Shoe House only because the upkeep was becoming more difficult for her. A listener can't miss the twinkle in her voice in when she speaks of the house. "More than anything else, I enjoyed talking with the people who came there. And to say that I owned the Shoe House … I had something that nobody else had … there isn’t anything else like it in the world."
Farabaugh said she is in the process of filing paperwork to have Shoe House listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Shoe House is located near the Hellam exit off U.S. 30, just east of York. Take Pennsylvania state route 462 east off Interstate 83 to Hellam. Turn left (north) off route 462 onto Shoe House Road.
In June, July and August, the Shoe House is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. In September and October it is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. From November through May, hours by appointment. Admission is $4 adults; $3 ages 12 and under; free for ages 3 and under.
Parking is free. Some larger motorhomes have trouble getting through the horseshoe-shaped driveway, Farabaugh said, but plenty of on-street parking is available on Shoe House Road.
More info: Call (717) 840-8339 or e-mail