If you're lucky enough to own a pair of Dan Freeman's custom, handmade leather shoes or boots-I happen to own a pair of Freeman's classic Mediterranean-style sandals-then you are a member of an elite, and growing, group of folks with extremely happy feet.
When you walk out of Dan Freeman's Leatherworks in downtown Middlebury with a pair of custom shoes, you'll know what it means to wear the best-made set of soles in Vermont.
Freeman uses top-quality materials and performs all customized fittings himself. And unlike cookie-cutter shoe outlets in cookie-cutter shopping malls, the Middlebury craftsman will service your purchase over it's long lifespan.
While the old cobbler's trade may be extinct elsewhere, Freeman's customer friendly manner and passion for his trade are keeping this old fashioned skill alive in Addison County, Vt. We hope he's found an apprentice or two to help spread the faith far and wide.
Recently, Freeman was guest lecturer at the Shelden Museum of Vermont History. At a small afternoon gathering, he discussed the fascinating world of shoemaking, especially as it was in the 1800s. Freeman displayed an historian's knowledge of his trade's evolution. He even revealed who made the shoes, who wore them, and how they were made, in 19th century Vermont.
Selected shoes, boots and slippers from the museum's collection, as well as lasts and tools used to make shoes from the same era, were on display during Freman's presentation.
Freeman began his unusual career in 1970 when he spent a year as an apprentice in a sandal shop in North Carolina. He then spent five years working in a leather shop on Main Street in Middlebury.
In 1976 Freeman spent two years working in New Orleans, La., for a shoemaker there. He moved back to Vermont in 1986 when he opened his current leatherworks shop in Middlebury.
In a world of cheap, imported shoes, Freeman's traditional cobbler skills are all the more valuable to retain.