The Barber Leather Co., at 60 Union St., in the Willow Dell neighborhood of North Adams, on a bend in the Hoosic, presents a picture of extreme dilapidation and imminent structural failure, but it stands out as an example of the Italianate style as applied to industrial architecture and as an instance of wooden construction. Although the building dates to 1892, it seems, stylistically, to belong to an earlier period and, indeed, it went up as the town's shoemaking industry died away.
Shoes require leather, and in 1831, the Barber Leather Company set out to supply that need. The company bought tanneries in Rensselaer, New York, and Reedsboro, Vermont, and brought the raw leather to its North Adams facility for processing into finished fancy leathers - patterned or colored - destined for pocketbooks, furniture, suitcases, and colored shoes. The company employed up to 150 people during the 1890s. However, the company closed following the decline of the North Adams shoe industry, After the cessation of shoemaking, the mill served as storage space for Mohawk Paper and as the offices of the Greylock Photoengraving Co. Today, it sits unoccupied, its wooden portion slowly crumbling.
The original structure was the brick portion of the building closest to Union St., decorated with an Italianate entrance tower above an office located in a small single-story wing; wooden additions built between 1895 and 1908 extended the building to more than twice its length toward the river. The wooden siding was once covered in brick-patterned aesbesos sheeting, and from a distance, at least, the building must have looked as if it was all brick.
That is not so today; the side walls of the wooden portion have fallen away from the wildly-tiling beams and columns, revealing the building's interior and structure. It is not built with mill, or slow-burning, construction, but rather, with conventional small joists, and its floors are too low for textile machinery.
A boiler is visible in the collapsed remains of the boiler house, on the side of the building. The office is in better condition.
The building is largely unornamented, but the slender Italianate tower, taller than the main block, situated on the same side as the office and the boiler room, received an unusual amount of decoration, as the builder aimed to achieve architectural effect.