It has been my pleasure to gather everything, every shoestring I can find about the James A. Banister Shoe Company. My connection to James A. has been made possible by the stories and the mementos carefully preserved by my family. You see, James Albert Banister was my great-great grandfather. As a child, I remember hearing vivid stories about Banister Shoes; Millburn, New Jersey; Springfield, Missouri; and the infamous Banister Army boots story. I have fond memories of my father gathering the family and sharing Isaac Banister's reminisces, which at that time, were photocopies of typed 8-1/2” x 14” pages. We laughed aloud at Isaac's sense of humor and his colorful tales of American life in the 1800s.
Photos, pictures and stories were shared at family reunions. My father ushered his daughters to his humble card table and explained each antiquated photo, making sure we labeled the backs of the photos correctly. My mother has shared countless family stories, photos and precious heirlooms, along with important details about their backgrounds. It is she who lovingly tended these keepsakes and kept the Banister family's legacy alive. In particular, are those items given to her on her wedding day, which were passed down from Lydia Banister, beloved first wife of James Albert. My stepmother has shared many priceless documents, some of which have been donated to the Newark Public Library; stories of traveling with my father to see family sites; conversations she had with family relatives who authenticated the Banister history; and personal recollections shared with her by my father and of my father.
To look back upon one of the most distinguished companies in the history of the United States, and to fully grasp its demise dispassionately, has not been possible for your host. To look without prejudice at history, one must put away sentimentality and emotion and examine information as it exists, instead of what he or she thought it was, or wishes it had been. A well-known story passed down through the Banister family was that the company's dissolution was heavily impacted by the loss of revenue from the United States government, specifically the U. S. Army, during WWI. Apparently, Banister Shoes was commissioned to supply boots for Army soldiers. When the first World War ended, the outstanding balance of payment due to the James A. Banister Company was never paid. Because boots designed for war were not in demand by the public at that time, the inventory was unsellable. The loss, apparently, was absorbed by Banister Shoes. (See Hide and Leather article on page.) What a tragic outcome for an American company that was devoted to its government, and for which it had provided such a critical product - protective gear for men serving in its military. This is not a reflection on the U.S. Army, but is likely a tragic accounting error at a national level. However, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 21, 1930, "Company officials said there was no financial pressure, but the outlook was not sufficiently promising to warrant continuance of the company. " Apparently, the James A. Banister Company did recover from this difficulty, yet when combined with the others forces at work, had to shutter its doors, nonetheless. It must be noted that this historical event did not dampen the desire for future generations of Banister men to serve their country. Arthur Williams Banister, great-grandson of James A. Banister, was a highly-decorated Command Pilot (and "full bird") in the U.S. Air Force, being awarded the coveted Distinguished Flying Cross and Legion of Merit medals (as well as many others). Arthur W.'s only sibling, his brother, James Henry, Jr., also served his country honorably and with distinction. Arthur W.'s grandson and step-grandson have followed the tradition with commitment and a strong sense of duty, to the great pride of their grandparents. Suffice it to say that the Banister heritage is one of dedication and integrity.
It is not possible to fully grasp the pain experienced by my family members burying their children; devastating fires in not one, but three of the family's factories; the deaths of beloved founding fathers; the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1920s; the Great American Depression of the 1930s; The Dust Bowl fom 1930 to 1936; and the final blow to Banister Shoes – the death from Spinal Meningitis of its last President - Arthur Chadwick Banister. The date was 1933. Now, it is the year 2019. Eighty-six years later, it is my honor, duty and a great privilege to present information on the James A. Banister Company, as only a family member and someone who enjoys research might have the desire to do.
Illustrations from advertisements printed in National Geographic Magazine provide the richest resource of images I have found for Isaac Banister, especially, and for James A., as well. Some half-tones can be seen in the Banister Shoe ads, suggesting photographs were made of Isaac, yet only the images in print ads remain. As his son, James A., approached life in the late 1800s, improvements in photography, as well as in the newspaper industry, provide the priceless few images of James that can be found. The family photograph I have of James A. Banister with his sons, along with images in obituaries, are my only sources of photographs of him. The importance of printed advertisements in saving the history of the James A. Banister shoe company cannot be over-stated. One signature of a Banister Shoes advertisement is: Isaac and James A. will always be represented together in the ad. They are either admiring one another in their gazes, or they walk side-by-side with smiles on their faces so pleasant, the warmth of their relationship radiates forth to this day.
My father traveled all over the world. He had just two military-issued foot lockers that followed him everywhere he went. In these small lockers were the photographs and personal belongings of Arthur Chadwick, his adored grandfather. These priceless belongings were passed down to me. My father, Arthur Williams Banister, died seven months and fifteen days before his younger brother, James Henry, Jr., passed. Daddy and Uncle Jim connected me to my Banister Shoes heritage, to Isaac and James Albert Banister, and to the women and children whom they loved.
Even with the passage of information directly from one generation to the next, important details can be lost, or confused. For example, until the research for this website began, no living member in my immediate family knew the following family details:
James Albert was not named “James Arthur.”
James Albert lost his first wife, Lydia, at the age of 42. Together, they had ten children, at least four of whom they buried together.
James Albert remarried after losing Lydia. His second wife, Adelaide, and he had four children. Information on Adelaide has been challenging to locate. James and Adelaide, sadly, buried children together, as well. The complete date ranges of their children is not known at this time.
Thus, James Albert had fourteen children.
There were two reputable Stetson companies operating at the same time – Stetson Shoes and Stetson Hats. Stetson Shoes was located near my old hometown of Northampton, MA, in the town of South Weymouth. I have never seen the preserved factory building, nor did I know it was there when I lived in Massachusetts. Stetson Shoes purchased Banister Shoes in the 1930s. Stetson Hats, on the other hand, operated out of Philadelphia, with no known business connection to Banister Shoes. Until 2018, your host and her family were under the assumption that Stetson Hats had purchased the Banister family's shoe business. It wasn't the first time your host was thoroughly confused in her research, nor will it be the last! James A. Banister (Shoes) and Ezra Hersey Stetson (Shoes) must have known one another, and John Batterson Stetson (Hats) may have known either or both of them! Examining the date ranges of these three men and their residences in Essex County, New Jersey and in Massachusetts, brings up the exciting possibility that the three men: J.A. Banister, E. H. Stetson, and J.B. Stetson were acquaintances.
There were (at least) two Isaac Banisters of Banister Shoe descent. Your host has found evidence of a third Isaac, although to date, she has not been able to confirm details and dates for him. Isaac Sr. dropped the second “n” in Bannister, thus helping to identify his relatives from that point forward. Also, it distinguishes the "Banister" last name from that famous-runner-guy, Roger, whose last name is spelled with two "n"s. Your host was endlessly confused due to her initial assumption that there was only one "Isaac Banister."
Banister Shoes made golf shoes. They must have been the sharpest golf brogues on the planet. Ultimately, this shouldn't be surprising considering: James B. was an avid golfer, as was his younger brother, Arthur C., as was my father, Arthur W. It was not a known family fact, however, that golf shoes were among the Banister Shoe Company's repertoire.
The list of mind-blowers will continue to grow as I search for clues and find connections in my search for all things "Banister Shoes." This research has become more than a personal quest for family connection. I feel a sense of urgency to post this information so that the history of America, as shown through the lens of the James A. Banister Company of world-class shoemakers, is never lost. My family has agreed that if I don't record, scan and post the Banister history, it will not be done. One burning question that I had took years to solve: where are James A. Banister and his family members buried? Searches online and calls to several historical cemeteries in the area netted nothing. I knew that James' father, Isaac, is buried in the Fairmount Cemetery, as is his wife, Cynthia. Since their son, James A., was instrumental in enlarging and developing the Fairmount Cemetery, one would expect the entire family to have been laid to rest there. In August of 2019, through the priceless research of Gerrina at the Fairmount Cemetery, several key graves have been located. She manually searched through massive hand-written (in vintage cursive!) volumes of names, sorted by date of death. Thank you, Gerri! I look forward to visiting Fairmount Cemetery sooner than later.
Without the astute, prompt and encouraging assistance from the following people, everything within this website would just be a nagging collection of thoughts in my brain and files on my hard drive. Lifelong thanks goes to: Beth Zak-Cohen, Librarian Extraordinaire, of the , Timothy J. Crist, President, Board of Trustees of the Newark Public Library, and President, ; and Richard ("Rick") L. Porter, Historian - Cultural Resource Unit at in Parsippany, New Jersey. Rick Porter, Rob Tucher and Jean Howson, in conjunction with Timothy Crist, worked tirelessly and successfully to place the Banister "Manufactory" on the . Rick Porter was especially gracious and informative when I called him, after locating the work he and his team had compiled online. Now, this significant building, The James A. Banister Company's final "Manufactory" will be protected. Tim Crist took many of the photos contained herein. Always, he was willing to drive to the Banister building to provide me with visual updates from across the country. Beth Zak-Cohen provided details and timelines that were fascinating and delivered to my inbox with amazing speed. I was so confused, so many times, as I pulled together the Banister Shoes' puzzle pieces. Beth created clarity out of confusion. Tim encouraged me after my own fire (the Carr Fire) and the resultant serious case of writer's block. My gratitude to Beth, Tim, Rick, Rob and Jean knows no bounds, not only for their assistance in my fact-finding mission, but for caring about the history of my family without knowing any of the Banisters directly. My dream is to see the Banister Manufactory in Newark, New Jersey, and the Stetson Shoe Factory in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, someday soon. I look forward, with eager anticipation, to meeting my "partners in crime," so that I may thank each person in person.
So, here's to you, Daddy. You were my connection to all of this. How I wish I could toast you with one of your world-famous margaritas - the ones you didn't even drink. And here's to you, Uncle Jim. Your cherry tree is blooming. Salud, amor y pecetas y el tiempo para gozarlos!
Timothy J. Crist