Shoe House

An old woman and her house

“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do,
She gave them some broth without any bread,
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”

How many of you have ever dreamed of living in a special house shaped like a giant… shoe? Maybe to prove that you are a real dreamer, a character came straight from a fairy tale, or maybe just to keep out some nuisance from a mile away. Well, someone’s been busy in order to make this happen.

One of the most famous houses of this nature is the one built by owner and artist Ron Van Zyl in 1990, on the Panorama Rout, in Mpumalanga, South Africa. It’s where the “old lady” lived with her many children, as the nursery rhyme says. Except the furniture of the Old Lady, the shoe also contains a small museum featuring the history of the Valley as well as an art gallery — Ron’s artworks are to be seen here. The Curio shop and Tea Garden is run by his wife Yvonne, children, students and also volunteer workers. From The Shoe is the entrance to the Alpha Omega Cave.

If you think Ron and his family must be a little eccentric people, maybe you will be amazed at how this idea is certainly older than theirs. Built in 1949 to advertise the creations of its owner — footwear manufacturer Mahlon Haines, known in the US as “the wizard of shoes”. At that time, Mahlon had a chain of nearly 50 shoe stores and was known for his eccentric and philanthropic ways, hosting elderly couples in his properties for free, treating them with only the best of service.

Mahlon died in 1962 leaving the shoe-shaped property to his employees who immediately thought to sell it. In 1964, Eleanor Hallman bought it as a guest house and ice cream parlor and it remained this way for over 20 years. In 2004, the house was bought by Carleen and Ronald Farabaugh, a couple who planned to organize sightseeing tours. After some important renovations in 2007, the shoe-shaped property officially opened to the public, and today is a true museum visited by many tourists, and includes a souvenir shop and a delicious ice cream parlor that Melanie prepares by hand.

Named after Kamala Nehru, wife of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Kamala Nehru Park — also known as the Shoe Park — is among the oldest children’s parks in Mumbai. It is popular for an interesting shoe-like-structure, called the Old Woman’s Shoe that has been inspired, needless to say, from the nursery rhyme.

In British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada, at 23135 Kitsequecla Lake Road, there is another nice shoe house, built in 1980 by its owner Toby. You are welcome to walk around the grounds surrounding it and to sign the guest book. Toby has created many surprising structures on the property, and if you are lucky, you may actually meet he himself.

Our tour concludes in Idaho, United States, with a private recreational property lying near the northeast corner — assuming a lake has a corner. It is a partial two-story residence which has been painted to accentuate its main motif, even down to shoe laces. Additionally, there are characters and other items painted on the side that reinforce the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”.

And, at this point, we grow far too fond of our old lady and her story. So we like to leave her with some more shoe houses around the world, starting with the Klompwoning by Alfred J. Kwak, in the Veenpark, Holland.



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