Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stearns and Foster

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.

- An empty factory floor at Stearns And Foster.

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.

- Seicer and our guide chatting in one of the factory floors.

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.

- A sink on the factory floor.

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.

- A supervisors office on the factory floor.

- Looking across the street to the eastern part of the complex which had been ravaged by fires and was in the process of being demolished.

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.

- A freight elevator.

- Employee break room.

- Bulletin board in the break room.

- Office.

- Door to the supervisors lounge.

- Boiler gauges.

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.

- The forgotten BMW's.

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.

- An office in the building complete with floor plans and blue prints.

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.

- Looking out over the Stearns complex in Lockland.

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.

Update | Oct. 18, 2017
  • The entire factory complex has now been demolished along with several nearby houses. That demolished neighborhood was featured in a 2013 story.


  1. All it needs is a really expensive taxpayer-funded trolley, and it will no doubt be back to its former glory;-)

  2. COAST, its funny you mention that actually. Having a permanent rail fixture in the group would greatly increase the property value just as streetcars/light rail have done in other cities and will soon do in Cincinnati. However, I believe they didn't go with that option because they're dearly afraid of Tom Luken and his ultra-relevant, highly supporter political ideology bringing some charter amendment against them. They know there's no possible way to beat that.

  3. ^ Property already has permanent rail. Double tracked line makes up the whole eastern edge of the site, and there's spur ROW that used to come right down Mill St.

    In fact, if it weren't stopping in Sharonville, the 3C Snail Rail Boondoggle could easily use this site as a station. Or it could be a "transit-oriented development", if there were such a thing as TOD.

    The presence of rails doesn't seem to be doing any good for most of the propoerties near that location. Rail equals blight. Passenger rail doubly so.

  4. COAST, the lines you mentioned are freight lines, I was referring to passenger rail lines. Nice spin though.

    What really killed that location, and really the entire city around it, wasn't the presence of rails like you and Michael Dukakis (seriously, first Smitherman, now this guy, what Kool Aid is your fringe group drinking?) want to believe, but the presence of that massive highway built through the trench.

  5. LOCAL POLITICS!!!!!!!!1

  6. i feek lucky now reading how excited urban explorers are. as a teenager i worked for a company that rented space on the ground floor and above in the oldest section of the sterns factory from 97-02. Being a curious soul myself, i would explore the many hallways, staircases,frieght elevators, storage areas and my favorite the underground tunnels. yes i said underground tunnels. Many a lunch break were spent expanding my knowlegde of this underground maze. There were so many different ways to go that even today i wonder what i didnt see. Most of the underground areas had to do with the first part of the industrial revolution. The old machines all ran off belt systems that were steamed powered, power the factory produced itself with huge boiliers, hence the pic of the smoke stack, and in doing so had a the maze of steam pipes that ran under the old part of the factory in tunnels. Old machine parts as well as boilier supplies, old work shops, restrooms and a couple offices are actualy 2 floors below sidewalk level on the western side of the old factory by 75 south. The only question i have is if anyone had the pleasure of meeting the old guy in blue overalls pushing a cart like the one in the pic. He would ring the bell for the elevator and when you got there he was gone. Rumor has it he fell in one of the bleeching batts in the early 20's and died. I want to thank all who contributed to the gallery, it was like being 16 again and brought back alot of memories. Only regret is i never took pics.

  7. ^Anon, awesome memories. Too bad you didn't have any pictures from back then, but what an experience to have. Its a shame that the building is in the condition its in now.

  8. Great pictures. I grew up in Lockland and My Father worked there for 37 Years. I would always meet him as he got off work as the school was really close to the factory. Now that I am older I see what a power house that place was in its day, but more importantly I see a company that was made succesful by very hard working dedicated employees (many from Appalachia) who gave their heart and soul for less than a average days pay.

  9. I live like 2 minutes from here, in Reading. I watched this place burn. I go by it every time I drive to school.

    I've always wanted to know how it looked inside. Great post.

  10. hi my name is ashley and i go to school across from that building

  11. The picture of the office with the blue prints, with the blue plaid chairs was my office as Human Resource Manager.---- Great memories!

  12. I sell a lot of Stearns & Foster products in Dayton and I get a lot of customers who say, "Isn't the factory down in Cincinnati?" I always just told them that the factory burned down and they rebuilt in Medina. It's so fascinating to finally hear the full story! I simply adore urban exploration and your photography is wonderful. It's refreshing to see some beautifully abandoned places in the local circuit. Keep up the great work!