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Donation of old shoe factory leaves church well heeled

July 11, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

In its heyday in 1939, the Hagerstown Shoe Co. building at 148 W. Franklin St. hummed with the sounds of heavy machinery and 1,000 workers.

Virtually shut down since 1994, the five-story, 125,000 square-foot brick structure may soon be bustling again, this time filled with the voices of children, homeless people and the elderly.

Building owners Bennett and Geraldine Rubin have given the building to Christ's Reformed Church, which is next door at 130 W. Franklin St.

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"It was time," said Bennett Rubin, speaking from his office in the building that has been nearly vacant these past three years when the last of the Cannon Shoe Co.'s office and warehouse ceased operations.

Judy Bowman, consistory president at Christ's Reformed, said her church is forming a committee to study the many possibilities for the building.

"We've thought about a cold weather shelter, a day-care program for the elderly, a gymnasium for youth," Bowman said.

The building is big enough to house all of those functions, and more, she said.

Christ's Reformed also is planning to establish a parish nurse program, and the site would be suitable for that too, she said.

"The area in back of the building is just ideal for a playground for the children in the neighborhood," Bowman said. "We're starting work on that right away."

Bowman said the building was turned over to the church June 30 and the planning began almost immediately.

"We see it as for church use," Bowman said, discounting the possibility that it would be sold for the proceeds. "We need to be there for our downtown community."

Rubin said he was glad to hear the church had such plans. "I was worried about a speculator getting it," Rubin said.

The gift translates into a tax write-off for the Rubins who became involved with the building in 1968 when the Cannon Shoe Co. bought out the Hagerstown Shoe Co.

Bennett Rubin has been president of Cannon since 1972.

First opened in 1911 as the Hagerstown Legging Co., the workers made shoes and leggings for the military, using leather from the Byron Tannery in Williamsport.

Cannon stopped manufacturing in 1984, moving that part of the business to Thurmont, Rubin said. Shoe manufacturing at that plant has now ceased, too.

The gift is a boon for the church, which as a religious organization, won't pay taxes as long as the activities conducted in the building are nonprofit, according to Washington County Treasurer Todd Hershey.

A special dedication and celebration service will be held in September at the United Church of Christ-affiliated church.

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