Over the past 130 years, a four-block site in the village of Bradley has been occupied by four different manufacturing plants (two of which were considered the world’s largest of their kind), provided jobs for thousands men and women, and suffered two catastrophic fires.
On the original 1891 map of North Kankakee (the village did not adopt the name Bradley until 1895), the title “Chair Factory” is shown on blocks 59, 60, 77 and 78. The site was bounded by Michigan Avenue, Goodwin Street, West Avenue and South Street.
The “chair factory” indicated on the plaque was the Gibbs Chair Co., one of the four major furniture factories that entrepreneur J. Herman Hardebeck had persuaded to move to his brand new town.
In May 1891, Hardebeck had acquired a large parcel of agricultural land in the undeveloped area between Kankakee and Bourbonnais. It stretched from Vasseur Avenue (now Kennedy Drive) in the west to the Illinois Central Railroad in the east. He quickly had the land surveyed and developed into lots for residential, commercial and industrial use.
The key to the success of the town of Hardebeck was to attract manufacturing plants that would create jobs and, therefore, workers who would buy land and build houses. In addition to the Gibbs operation, factories located in North Kankakee were Ideal Folding Bed Company, Turk Furniture Company, and Demme & Dierckes Furniture Company. By the end of the summer of 1892, the Gibbs, Turk and Ideal factories employed a total of 1,200 workers; Demme & Dierckes, still under construction, is expected to hire 1,000 employees.
At the end of 1892, the Kankakee Daily Gazette described the “wonder” that North Kankakee was: … four hotels and guesthouses, 22 stores, a train station, a post office, four furniture factories … and all the main elements of the building. ‘a prosperous city.
The Gibbs factory on its four-block site was substantial, consisting of two large buildings housing a workforce of 600 men. Each of the four-story buildings measured 60 feet by 250 feet.
In 1893, a national financial panic devastated businesses across the country; Gibbs Chair and two of the other three factories in North Kankakee were among the victims (only Turk Furniture managed to survive). The once bustling Gibbs factory site has been inactive for over six years.
The new century brought a new owner for the empty factory. The Gazette reported on January 3, 1900: “The Standard Starch Company of Kankakee, Ill. Sends out advertisement stating that it has nearly completed the world’s largest starch plant, with a capacity of 6,000 bushels. of corn per day. , nearly double that of any other plant.
The starch company was remodeling the old Gibbs Co. factory buildings and would later add two one-story structures. One of the new buildings would measure 250 feet by 80 feet, the other 115 feet by 140 feet.
The first batches of starch samples were produced on March 10, 1900, and production ramped up during the summer and fall; in mid-September, the Gazette reported: âThe starch factory is never inactive. It operates seven days a week and 24 hours a day. “
A workforce of 125 was employed at the factory when it was renamed Archer Starch Co. in June. By the time the plant was operating 24 hours a day in September, the number of jobs had increased to 200.
On March 12, 1901, disaster struck as flames swept through the factory buildings, burning them to the ground. The owners of the business have decided not to rebuild. The debris was cleared away and the site again lay inactive, this time for nearly a decade.
The next chapter in the history of the Bradley site opened in 1903, when the PE Kroehler company purchased the vacant industrial property. In June 1911, the Naperville-based company opened the first of two huge furniture factory buildings it would eventually operate at the Bradley site.
The factory which opened in 1911 has been referred to as Factory No. 3, or âKankakee Factoryâ. The second factory, which opened in 1930, was called Factory No. 4 or âthe Bradley Factoryâ. A 1928 newspaper article noted that Factory No. 3 “has the distinction of being the largest factory in the world dedicated to the manufacture of living room furniture.”
The Kroehler Furniture Factory was the oldest business at the Bradley site, operating for seven decades, from 1911 to 1981. The business went through tough times in the mid-1970s and never recovered. A Chicago investment firm bought a controlling stake in the struggling manufacturer in 1981. The following year, a firm called Luxor Spring Company began making furniture under the Kroehler brand in Factory No.4. went bankrupt in 1986, ending the property’s history as a major manufacturing site.
On June 9, 1989, history repeated itself when a fire destroyed a large building on the property – the former Kroehler Factory No.3. Former Factory No.4 is used for storage and houses a number of small businesses.