TROY — For the better part of two centuries, a small building stood at the corner of South Main and South streets, the historic home of the Capron Shoe Shop.
Now, there’s an empty space.
After several unsuccessful attempts over the years to raise enough money to salvage the roughly 16x22-foot building and move it elsewhere in town, it appeared doomed for demolition.
Then Richard Wright made a call.
Wright, a blacksmith in town, has worked before with Colin Cabot, the founder and president of Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon. The nonprofit is dedicated to teaching traditional farming and craft skills, including blacksmithing.
“And I know Colin is interested in saving old buildings,” Wright said.
After hearing from Wright last month, Cabot made a few more calls and, by the end of last week, he and a crew of carpenters successfully dismantled the old shoe shop, put it on trailers, and took it to Sanborn Mills Farm, where it will be reconstructed.
“We haven’t made a definitive plan about how we would like to use it again, but it would be perfect as sort of a welcome center, attached to one end of an old greenhouse that we’re putting up,” Cabot said. “And it fits perfectly on the site where it would go, and it would be a place for people to check in when they first got to the farm, on the way from the parking [lot] on the edge of our campus.”
Cabot added that he still needs to consult with the farm’s board of directors on when the shop will be rebuilt, but hopes it will happen “sooner than later.” When it does go up, Cabot said the building will include a display explaining its history, and how it got to the farm.
According to the Troy Village Historic District’s successful nomination for the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, the shop was built in 1846 by James Capron, a Winchester native born in 1808. He married Sophronia Aldrich of Troy in 1832, and they lived in Jaffrey and elsewhere before returning to Troy in 1846.
Capron worked as a shoemaker in the shop for 36 years before his death in 1882. His son Joseph F. Capron joined him as a cobbler, and the shop was still active at the time of Joseph’s death in 1892.
“The Capron Shoe Shop is a rare survivor of a significant vernacular building type and is important for its ability to yield information to document the early nineteenth century shoe trade in the Monadnock Region,” the nomination form states. “Similar shops have been demolished or converted to other uses as the industry changed.”
Dick Thackston, who most recently owned the Capron Shoe Shop property and donated it to Sanborn Mills Farm, said the building embodies New Hampshire’s history as a manufacturing state.
“And the Capron Shoe Shop reflects that, in that when the railroads started coming in, the way industry was formatted in New Hampshire is that people literally had cottage industries,” said Thackston, a Realtor who also serves as chair of the Troy selectboard.
Cobblers like the Caprons would work in cottages throughout the state, producing shoes that would eventually be sent by train to Boston, Thackston said.
“It significantly reflects how industry developed in New Hampshire,” he said of the Capron Shoe Shop’s legacy.
The Troy Historical Society had tried beginning in 2019 to raise funds to move the building to town-owned space at the Cheshire Railroad Depot, according to historical society member Lynn Smith. The building’s previous owners had agreed to gift the shop to the town if it could be moved off their property, she added.
But by the end of last year, “it was clear to the group that this was a project too big in scope for such a small (and older) group,” Smith said in an email.
After the historical society dropped out of the project, and Wright learned that the building could be demolished, he called Cabot at Sanborn Mills Farm.
“It’s a shame that it had to leave Troy, but now it’s going to be restored over there [in Loudon],” Wright said.
Smith added that, “Given the age and historical significance of the structure, I am pleased it will be re-established elsewhere. It would have been great to have it at the [railroad] site, [but] to have it just torn down would have been tragic. I am looking forward to seeing it back together.”
Despite its age, Cabot said the building is still solid, and will make a great addition to Sanborn Mills Farm.
“It was on a foundation which was sort of falling in, but the building itself was square and straight, which was a testament to the fact that it was really well built when it was first done,” he said.
Cabot and several carpenters from the farm, along with a team from the Canterbury-based Fifield Building Restoration & Relocation, dismantled the building beginning Friday, April 9, and over the course of the following week, he said. In the process, they learned a great deal about the structure. For instance, he said, they saw how the shop’s slate roof, which sat atop wooden shingles, helped preserve the building.
“You can’t reuse wooden shingles, but you can reuse slate shingles,” Cabot said. “And the slate was in pretty good shape, and because slate is such a good roofing material, the building had never really suffered any serious damage.”
He added that New England as a whole has a history of adapting and reusing old buildings like this.
“And that’s why we are proud to do it,” Cabot said. “And people who do it learn from doing it, because you take things apart, you see how they were built and the level of craftsmanship that went into all of this stuff.”
And, he said, these lessons about historic craftmanship, and the process of moving the Cabot Shoe Shop, exemplify the core goals of Sanborn Mills Farm.
“One of the virtues of a craft school is that it celebrates the traditional crafts that were needed to do things like build these buildings and take them apart and move them around,” he said. “So, if we can keep those skills going, and by example show people that you can indeed take a beautiful old building and save it and reuse it, rather than just put it in a dumpster, that’s one of the mandates of our school as an educational mission.”
Thackston, for his part, added that he’s thrilled the Capron Shoe Shop will have new life in Loudon.
“I think it was a win for everybody,” he said. “I was very pleased with it. I thought it was really a tremendous opportunity, really for the whole state.”