The Rockford Files

Bedpan Industry

You can tell a lot about the direction in which a city is headed by paying attention to the types of buildings being built, and those being torn down.  Here in Rockford, for some years now, the latter have disproportionately been factories, including some which once made Rockford the manufacturing powerhouse of the Upper Midwest.

The latest casualties were 2 of the 11 buildings on the Barber-Colman campus in southwest Rockford.  Built in the early 1900’s to manufacture textile machines, Barber-Colman still employed more than 3,300 people as late at 1981.  Three years later, Barber-Colman, which had grown too rapidly through mergers and acquisitions, sold the Rock Street operations to Reed-Chatwood.  After Reed-Chatwood went under in 1999, the property changed hands a few times before being bought by the city of Rockford in 2002.  It has sat vacant ever since, a silent monument to Rockford’s past.

The other nine buildings probably won’t come down, but only because the Barber-Colman campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  That a new manufacturer will move into the buildings is even less likely than the city successfully redeveloping them into a commercial or residential complex—which is not likely at all.

While factories went down, a new “industry” rose in their wake.  The healthcare “industry” now vies with the public-school system...

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