Stearns and Foster Company

The Stearns and Foster Company was located in Lockland, Ohio and at its peak, was the largest cotton consumer in the United States.

History

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,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.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

Fires

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.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.

Digest

  • Name: Stearns and Foster Company
  • Location: Lockland, Ohio
  • Years of Significance: 1880’s
  • Status: Abandoned

Sources

  1. “Stearns to close in Lockland.” Cincinnati Post 1 July 1993. 20 Dec. 2006: 9A.
  2. “Dedication planned.” Cincinnati Post 5 Sept. 2002. 20 Dec. 2006: 1.
  3. Klepal, Dan. “Stearns & Foster fire pushes crews to the limit.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 May, 2004. 21 Dec. 2006: 1B.
  4. Keeme, Steve. “Stearns & Foster employed many in Lockland.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 May, 2004. 21 Dec. 2006: 6B.
  5. Moores, Lew. “Stearns plant catches fire.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 Oct. 1999. 21 Dec. 2006: 1B.
  6. Alltucker, Ken. “Stearns says goodbye to business with auction today.” Cincinnati Enquirer 14 Jan. 2004. 8 Sept. 2008: 1D.
  7. Truong, Quan. “Eyesore hits Lockland like ton of bricks.” Cincinnati Enquirer 16 Oct. 2009. 16 Oct. 2009.

13 Comments

  1. Stearns & Foster in Lockland, Ohio is one place I'm glad to see gone. Back in 1975, my Uncle age 12 and me, I was 7 when one evening my uncle Kenneth Ferrell never came home from baseball practice. About 5:00pm a fire alarm at Stearns & Foster Comp. alerted Lockland Fire Department that there was a fire in building 51. After the fire was exstingished, the cleanup crew were moving bales of cotton when they discovered a severely burnt body. The Cleanup crews contacted Lockland PD to the seen where the burt boby was taken to the hamilton county morgue. The Body was that of my 12 year old uncle, Kenneth Ferrell. To this day I've hated this damn place and alway hoped it would burn to the ground.

  2. Sorry for your loss…your pain of the loss of your much loved uncle is still raw and transparent even reading this today,so many years later. I am from Cincinnati, but haven't lived there for years. Did they ever find out how the fire started? You didn't say – why was your uncle even there to be trapped like that? Seems like a horrific way to go…smoke inhalation likely took him quickly and he didn't suffer. Again, I am so sorry…no doubt you've had to get used to a "new -normal" with the loss of him from your life. I'll bet he's with you frequently though in Spirit…and probably wanting you to know there is "nothing you could have done differently" that would have changed the outcome and his "appointment" with his Destiny. Seems none of us really knows when our life-script will end….we turn a "page" and find we have an "exit line".

  3. Thank you so much for the pictures. I grew up in Lockland and my Dad worked at

    Stearns for 37 years, so it meant alot to see them. When I was young I would always meet

    my dad after work and thought that building was like a huge fort. Now that I am older I realize

    how hard those men worked for the Small wages they recieved. The Company definitely took advantage

    of alot of the men that came to work their from Kentucky and Tennessee who devoted their lives to working at the Factory.

  4. Kenneth and one of his friends was to have a baseball practice game at 3:30 that evening but was cancel do to rain. Kenneth and his friend had been at the location several time before because the police report stated that the security guards had ran them off on several occations. The fire started in warehouse 51 which is an area for storage of bales of cotton. The boys had mad tunnels through the bales of cotton over a period of time. The day that the fire started, it was ruled as Kenneth and the other boy smoking in or around the high combustable materials. Kenneth's friend ran from the seen and was later on question about the fire. What really makes me made, the security guards new these boys were sneaking into this building weeks before the fire started. They where entering into the building through a hole on the side of the building about two square feet. This issue wasn't ever fixed or even addressed to the company officals not even once.

  5. Does anyone know if S & F had a 401 k plan back in the early 70"s. I worked their from 1973-1978 before i went into the Service..I might have some money somewhere. ha can someone help me?

    glrobinson@cox.net or 602-228-1799

    • 401k plans didnt exist back then. I doubt that Stearns had an ESOP plan, which would be something that May have existed before 401k.

  6. i knew pearl bradley he was a good man who worked hard ,i hope he is still around

  7. I have been around Lockland for quite some time. My family owns property on Central ave which dead-ends into wyoming ave at the Stearns building. I moved Onto Central ave. about 2 years ago on a permant basis.

    I have NEVER had any health issues besides a cold or something like that TILL I moved here. For the last year I have been admitted to the hospital 3 times for approx. 3 dayes each due to SEVERE respiratory problems. It's just not me….. I know of ATLEAST 6 or 7 people just on this street alone that is now having severe breathing problems.

    There is RUMORS that the EPA has shut down the moving of ANY materials from this site due to ALOT of hazzardous materials being placed into the air from the piles on the lot and that they are starting a clean up of the site.

    I'm wanting to know of ANY type of health problems ANYBODY from this general area is having. SOMETHING just isn't right that so many people are getting sick. I can be contacted at CINCYATO@yahoo.com.

    Thank you,

    Curt

  8. I worked at S&F for 17 years in various engineering positions. There were numerous small fires but were handled capably by the in house fire brigade. The Lockland Fire Chief worked at S&F as well. I was there in 1975 but am unaware of the death of a 12 year old in Blgd 51. What was a 12 yera old doing there?

    S&F was a great company to work for and all ended when the Mattress Division was sold in 1984. Sealy did nothing but take over the brand name.

    Don Duritsch

  9. Don, I worked in the Research Lab from 72-78 (and remember you) and definitely remember the file that killed the young man. Went to the scene later that morning and spoke in length with Tom about it a bit later. I left in 1978 to work full time in law enforcement.

  10. My father worked for s&f from1969 till the mid 80s yes low wages but good med insurance and once a year the union company picnic but them men and woman worked hard I had other family mebers working there also. I never did know about a kid in fire dad (John Fitch) worked a lot in the bleach house he must have not wanted the kids to know

  11. I worked in the Textile Division for 11 years from 1968 to 1969 and reported to Mark Perin, Plant Manager. I worked in a variety of positions from production, QC, Industrial Engineering and I ran the entire 3rd shift operation for many of those years. Physical injuries to employees was quite common due to the amount of rapidly spinning belts, pulleys, gears, wooden conveyors and the heated drying ovens. My time at S&F formulated my manufacturing career going forward from the 60’s and 70’s. It was a very good place to work back then and in fact provided a better standard of living than was available back in Appalachia where so many of us were originally from. I have so many, many vivid memories of the place and I guess at one time or the other I was in every square foot of the Textile Division and formed many, many memorable relations with a lot of fellow Kentuckians and Cincinnatian’s as well.

  12. Thanks. Though some of your history is incorrect. S & F was purchased in 1984 by Ohio-Mattress, OMT, a franchisee of Sealy mattress. Shortly after buying Stearns, OMT won a major lawsuit against Sealy Inc. Damages were so large that OMT became the owner of Sealy Inc.
    I remember this as I was there covering S&F’s computer systems during this time as an employee of OMT.

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