The Stearns and Foster Company is a now-demolished mattress factory in Lockland, Ohio. It was the most substantial cotton consumer in the United States at its peak.
Stearns & Foster was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1846 by George S. Stearns and Seth Foster and was the first factory in the nation to produce cotton wadding. 1 8 The company soon expanded into batting, mattresses, and related cotton products. 1 Stearns & Foster relocated to Lockland along the Miami and Erie Canal in the late-1880’s, 1 4 and grew over the years to encompass one-million square feet over 15 acres.
At the Lockland factory’s peak in the 1970s, Stearns & Foster employed more than 1,200 people who produced 200 mattresses and spring sets daily under the Stearns & Foster and Sealy brands. 8 9
Sealy (once known as the Ohio Mattress Company) acquired Stearns & Foster in 1983, and in 1985, the non-woven textile business was sold to Morley P. Thompson Sr., which became the Stearns Technical Textile Company. 8 Stearns Technical Textile produced fabric used in products ranging from fabric softener sheets, insulation for automobiles, and disposable diaper liners.
On August 1, Sealy announced that the mattress and bedding lines at Lockland would be eliminated by September 30, noting that the facility was antiquated and limited in capacity. 1 8 Stearns Technical Textile continued to use the remainder of the plant to produce fabric used in products ranging from softener sheets, insulation for automobiles, and disposable diaper liners. 1 4 8
Stearns Technical Textile filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2001 and by 2003, the plant was operating with just a skeleton crew. 6 The company’s consumer products division was sold to Leggett & Platt and all operations were moved to Mason, Ohio. 4 9 A bankruptcy court-approved auction of the facility was held on January 14, which was purchased for $350,000 by B.A.D. Properties. 9
Fires and Demolition
Fires were commonplace at Stearns & Foster and Stearns Technical Textile. On March 14, 1994, a fire broke out on a conveyor oven where fabrics were once dried, which required the response of over 45 Lockland and Reading firefighters. 3 A more massive three-alarm fire, started in an industrial oven for cotton, caused damage to the second and third floors of Building 35 on October 26, 1999. 5
A four-alarm fire that destroyed 30% of the complex required the assistance of more than 130 firefighters and equipment from at least 27 different departments on May 1, 2004. 3 Firefighting efforts were made more complicated by rain and high winds that resulted in the collapse of several walls and roofs, large gaping holes in the floor caused by equipment removal, and a lack of water pressure because the fire suppression systems were inoperable. Additionally, a fire hose that ran from a hydrant across an adjoining railroad was severed after a train rolled over it.
B.A.D. began to tear down the parts of the complex that had been damaged by fire in February 2008, but officials complained that the work was too slow. 7 B.A.D. argued that it could not afford to destroy all of the buildings at once as the cost was estimated at $900,000. The village took B.A.D. to court, and a judge ruled in favor of Lockland in 2010. The ruling ordered B.A.D. to remove the rubble by the following spring, but as the company could not afford the cleanup costs, it deeded over a part of Stearns & Foster to the village. 11 12 Lockland received a $1.8 million grant from the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund towards the cleanup of the plant in November.
A significant portion of the western half of Stearns & Foster collapsed in October 2012, which led to the demolition of most of the complex. The work was financed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, which acquired some of the former factory property for an Interstate 75 widening project. 11 The smokestack, the last remnant of Stearns & Foster, was imploded on March 26, 2015. 10
- “Stearns to close in Lockland.” Cincinnati Post, 1 July 1993, p. 9A.
- “Dedication planned.” Cincinnati Post, 5 Sept. 2002, p. 1.
- Klepal, Dan. “Stearns & Foster fire pushes crews to the limit.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 May, 2004, p. 1B.
- Keeme, Steve. “Stearns & Foster employed many in Lockland.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 May, 2004, p. 6B.
- Moores, Lew. “Stearns plant catches fire.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Oct. 1999, p. 1B.
- Alltucker, Ken. “Stearns says goodbye to business with auction today.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 14 Jan. 2004, p. 1D.
- Truong, Quan. “Eyesore hits Lockland like ton of bricks.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 Oct. 2009, pp. B1, B7.
- Boyer, Mike. “Stearns & Foster’s Lockland plant to close.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 Jul. 1993, p. D8.
- Kemme, Steve. “Stearns & Foster employed many in Lockland.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 May 2004, p. B6.
- Murray, Sydney. “Iconic smokestack to be taken down.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Mar. 2015, p. 13A.
- Koesters, Matt. “Ex-Stearns and Foster site ready for renewal.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Jul. 2015, p. 14A.
- Truong, Quan. “State grant of $1.7 million to help clean up Lockland rubble pile.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 23 Nov. 2010, p. B5.