The Stearns and Foster Company was located in Lockland, Ohio and at its peak, was the largest cotton consumer in the United States.
Founded in Cincinnati in 1846 by George S. Stearns and Seth Foster, Stearns & Foster was the first factory to produce cotton wadding, soon expanding into batting, mattresses and other cotton products.1 It moved to a factory in Lockland along the Miami-Erie Canal in the late-1880s 1 4 and grew over the years into multiple buildings encompassing 15-acres at over one-million square feet. The mattress factory produced 200 mattresses and spring sets daily under the Stearns & Foster and Sealy brand names.
At its peak in the 1970s, the company employed more than 1,200 from the Cincinnati region. In the mid-1980′s, the Stearns & Foster Company became known as the Stearns Technical Textile Company.4 Formerly producing just mattresses, it now produced non-woven textiles along with insulation. A large change came in 1993 when the mattress factory component was purchased by the Sealy Corporation.
The bedding factory component was to be closed by August 31, 1993, however, the textiles business was to be unaffected.1 Announced just on August 1, the end result would have been a net loss of only 75 employees; it had been functioning for several years on a skeleton crew. The Sealy Corporation, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, decided to close the aging factory because it was deemed too old. It also had a limited manufacturing capacity compared to modern facilities in several Midwestern states and California. The collection of structures also had a lease that was soon to expire. The closure of the mattress factory resulted in the neglect of the eastern half of the building. The resulting closure also left 200 employees for the Stearns Technical Textile Company which constructed fiber-fill and insulation for automobiles.
In 1997, portions of the former mattress component structures had received ‘brownfield’ status. By 1999, the remaining complex employed 175.4
In December 2001, the privately-owned Stearns Technical Textile filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.6 In 2003, the factory had been pared down to a skeleton crew, and the company’s consumer products division was sold to Leggett and Platt Inc. Operations were moved to Mason, Ohio.4
On January 14, a bankruptcy court-approved auction of the facility began. The complex of interconnected buildings was later purchased for $350,000 by a group of investors.4
The Stearns Technical Textiles Company and mattress factory were no newcomers to fires, even while closed. On March 14, 1994 at 6:30 PM, a fire broke out on the third-floor production line conveyor oven, where fabrics were once dried.3 The flames spread to the wood floor. As a result, 45 Lockland and Reading firefighters responded although two sustained minor injuries. A much larger three-alarm fire on October 26, 1999 caused damage to the second and third floors of Building 35.5 The fire began in an industrial oven, where the machines were being used as heaters for cotton.
On Saturday, May 1, 2004, a massive four-alarm fire required the assistance of more than 130 firefighters and equipment from at least 27 different departments.3 The resulting fire that began in the eastern segment of the building was made more complicated by rain and high winds that resulted in the collapse of several walls and roofs. The fire briefly jumped to the western building complex, however, it was put out quickly.
Numerous firefighters had entered the building but encountered numerous obstacles, one of which included large gaping holes in the floor. When the mattress factory component had closed in 1993, the industrial equipment had to be lowered through the floors via man-made holes.3 The firefighters also had to battle collapsing floors and walls. Another complication resulted after the firefighters entered the eastern building: the department lost most of the water pressure. More complications occurred that made the situation that much worse. When the Reading Fire Department arrived, it stretched one fire hose from a hydrant that was across the CSX tracks.3 An order was put out to stop all trains from running through Lockland that ran adjacent to the factory, but five minutes after the hose was placed, a train came through and tore the hose in half. Numerous holes were dug and the hoses were laid under the tracks to prevent any further incidents. To add insult to injury, the fire suppression system that would have prevented the fire from spreading failed to operate because the boiler systems were inoperable.3 As a result of the fire, 30% of the eastern complex was destroyed.
After the fires, the village of Lockland began a court battle to have the eastern complex of the Stearns & Foster demolished. Village officials have complained in court documents that B.A.D. Properties has been “too slow” to demolish the eastern half of the complex, leaving rubble near downtown and by the Lockland school complex.7 B.A.D. argued that it could not afford to demolish all of the buildings at once, and said that it could only afford to tear down buildings one-at-a-time. It is generating some revenue by selling the bricks to recoup some of the $900,000 demolition cost.
B.A.D. continued, stating that if it was such a problem, the village should take over the demolition.7 B.A.D. has stated that the western-half of the complex does not violate building or fire codes. Both B.A.D. and the city of Lockland are waiting for the Ohio Department of Transportation to see if the agency will purchase and demolish the western complex as part of the Interstate 75 reconstruction project.
On September 5, 2002, a historical marker was dedicated for Stearns Woods.2 Recognizing the accomplishments of the Edwin Russell Stearns family, they founded the Stearns and Foster Company. They were also recognized for their contributions to the city of Cincinnati during the Ohio River flood of 1937. The company had donated thousands of mattresses to the Red Cross and had provided thousands of gallons of clean drinking water to area hospitals and residents.
- Name: Stearns and Foster Company
- Location: Lockland, Ohio
- Years of Significance: 1880s
- Status: Abandoned
- “Stearns to close in Lockland.” Cincinnati Post 1 July 1993. 20 Dec. 2006: 9A.
- “Dedication planned.” Cincinnati Post 5 Sept. 2002. 20 Dec. 2006: 1.
- Klepal, Dan. “Stearns & Foster fire pushes crews to the limit.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 May, 2004. 21 Dec. 2006: 1B.
- Keeme, Steve. “Stearns & Foster employed many in Lockland.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 May, 2004. 21 Dec. 2006: 6B.
- Moores, Lew. “Stearns plant catches fire.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 Oct. 1999. 21 Dec. 2006: 1B.
- Alltucker, Ken. “Stearns says goodbye to business with auction today.” Cincinnati Enquirer 14 Jan. 2004. 8 Sept. 2008: 1D.
- Truong, Quan. “Eyesore hits Lockland like ton of bricks.” Cincinnati Enquirer 16 Oct. 2009. 16 Oct. 2009.