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 nearby Cincinnati in 1846 by George S. Stearns and Seth Foster, Stearns & Foster was the first factory to produce cotton wadding. It soon expanded into batting, mattresses and other cotton products.1 It moved to a factory in Lockland along the Miami-Erie Canal in the late-1880’s1 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 the company’s peak in the 1970’s, Stearns & Foster’s Lockland location employed more than 1,200.
In the mid-1980’s, the Stearns & Foster Company became known as the Stearns Technical Textile Company and it expanded into non-woven textiles and insulation products.4
The mattress and bedding manufacturing line by the 1990’s was operating with a skeleton crew of 75 employees. In 1993, the mattress manufacturing line was purchased by the Sealy Corporation. On August 1, Sealy announced that it would terminate the mattress and bedding lines at the Lockland facility by August 31,1 as it contended the physical plant was too old, had a limited manufacturing capacity and an ending lease. The resulting closure also left 200 employees for the Stearns Technical Textile Company which constructed fiber-fill and insulation for automobiles.
In 1997, the buildings that manufactured mattress and bedding wares received “brownfield” status.
The remaining manufacturing operations in Lockland employed 175 by 1999.4 In December 2001, Stearns Technical Textile filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy6 and by 2003, the factory had been pared down to a skeleton crew. The company’s consumer products division was sold to Leggett and Platt Inc. who moved all operations to Mason, Ohio.4
On January 14, a bankruptcy court-approved auction of the facility began. The complex of interconnected buildings was purchased for $350,000 by a group of investors.4
The Stearns & Foster complex was not a newcomer to fires. On March 14, 1994 at 6:30 p.m., 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. Over 45 Lockland and Reading firefighters responded, two of whom 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 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. 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 There was also a loss of water pressure in the eastern building after a fire hose that ran from a hydrant across the railroad tracks as severed after a train rolled over it.3 Additionally, 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 Stearns & Foster demolished. Village officials have complained in court documents that the owner, B.A.D. Properties, had been “too slow” to demolish the ravaged buildings and leaving rubble exposed.7 B.A.D. argued that it could not afford to demolish all of the buildings at once as the cost was pegged near $900,000.
On September 5, 2002, a historical marker was dedicated for Stearns Woods.2 The marker also recognized the accomplishments of the Edwin Russell Stearns family and 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.