A massive abandoned mattress factory in the Cincinnati suburb of Lockland as seen in the summer of 2008.
Every summer I kind of let QC/D go a little bit. I get consumed with my "real" job and other distractions, but the summer of 2008 was particularly bad. I was really focused on work, I was seeing this girl and I was going to Cedar Point a lot (I used to be in love with that place). I also did a lot of exploring, I just forgot to post about it. Eventually I got around to posting some of the stuff, but I completely forgot to write about one of the biggest abandoned buildings I've ever been in: the Stearns and Foster mattress company.
Among the local urban explorers/abandoned building photography enthusiasts, this place had caught the eye of many. It was tricky though. It looked abandoned, it looked dilapidated, it wasn't in use as a factory any more and it was partially demolished. However, there was always some sort of activity going on there that kept most people away, at least most of the people I knew. I had so much going on that I wasn't really concerned with it. Until one day when Seicer called me up and told me that he had managed to get "permission" to photograph the place.
So on a hot summer morning I parked my car next to the massive Lockland factory which looms over the split of I-75. I walked up to the front door to see Seicer and some other folks who I didn't know. After brief introductions, we met the "caretaker" of the building, the guy who was responsible for guarding it. He told us permission would come with a price, it would be $100 per person to see the inside. Seicer had told me $50. I stood at the back of the group as Seicer mumbled to the guy in the doorway. Having permission to photograph a place you'd normally have to trespass at is great, but not $100 great, especially when you don't know if what's inside is worth seeing. The mumbling stopped, $50 was decided on. We ponied up and were ushered inside.
Seicer has an extremely detailed historical analysis on the place if you have an hour or two, but to make a long story short..
The company was founded in 1846 along the Miami-Eerie Canal, specializing in mattresses and other cotton products. Over the years, the company continued to expand into multiple buildings. The place thrived as a textile and bedding manufacturing plant well into the 1970's, at one point peaking at about 1200 employees. The 90's would usher in the great downfall of this historic building though. In 1993, the Sealy Corporation purchased the bedding and mattress division of the company and immediately shut it down, while keeping the textile division open under it's own private identity. A series of fires affected the giant building which was really just many older buildings conjoined together. By 1997, the textile division only employed around 200 people who worked in skeleton crews until the Stearns Technical Textile company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003. By 2006, the factory sat empty and had been purchased by a group of investors.
The building is massive, absolutely massive. As I said before, it's really just multiple buildings conjoined together. I don't remember a lot of specifics about being there (except that I was really, really into taking vertical photographs at the time), just that our group kept getting separated. One wrong turn or a trip down the wrong set of stairs would throw you into another building. The place is an endless catacomb of secret passages and rooms.
Factory's like this were responsible for the rise of America's manufacturing empire following the Second World War. You certainly don't see many places like this today, both abandoned or employing people.
As our guide showed us through the place, he kept remarking about the damage vandals had done. Large walls were plastered with graffiti and black lines had been spray painted on the walls so scrap thieves could easily find their means of escape, a common theme in abandoned buildings today.
- Here you can see where two different buildings of the complex come together, joined by the hallway I was standing in when the photograph was taken.
One thing I do remember in particular were the BMW's. Since the textile company's closure, the building's owner had been leasing out the large floor space for storage. Our guide pointed out rooms of childrens toys that he claimed "some guys" were planning to ship to Africa, but they hadn't been by in years. Among the other odds and ends stored there were four vintage BMW automobiles. The James Bond-esque vehicles were parked in a space that had once been reserved for semi trucks to carry out factory shipments.
According to the caretaker, the cars had been brought there and stored by a wealthy gentleman who was moving them from New Orleans. He had gone back to New Orleans right about the time Hurricane Katrina hit and the caretaker never heard back from him again.
A word of the wise (if you can call me that): Not that I encourage anyone to do what I do or to ever trespass (Trespassing is a crime that tears at the moral fabric of our society, don't ya know?), but I do realize there are other people out there that like to go out and photograph abandoned buildings...don't go here. Seriously, the place is still somewhat active, watched all the time and frankly the people watching it are sick of the scrap thieves and graffiti artists (who can blame them, right?) and assume everyone who comes by is there to do the same. This is a place better left alone or maybe if you're lucky, you can find the right people willing to give you a tour for a couple bucks...or fifty.
What will become of the structure remains to be seen. It sits on a massive plot of real estate right between where the Northern and Southern flowing portions of I-75 split, the tip of an industrial island that is the city of Lockland. The Stearns building and the photographs from within it's current state serve as a reminder to the industrial might Midwestern America once had, a symbol of time now gone.
Previous Update :: October 12, 2010 - "Rally at the Square, Reds October and an Open Letter to Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer"
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