On January 6,2015, The building which formerly was used as the main office of the Rockford Cabinet Company was destroyed by fire. The blaze started and burned for the 2 days and in the end, it was a total loss. The only remaining piece from this
building that was still standing was the limestone entryway and mantle. Arson is suspected for the blaze, there are no suspects at this time. It is hard to imagine why someone would do such a thing.
The building has a long history in Rockford and has housed several successful companies throughout its 89 years. The first tenants and the company responsible for constructing the building was the Rockford Cabinet Company. This company has played an important part in the history of Rockford as many other furniture companies.
The furniture manufacturing industry grew to be the second largest manufacturing industries, only second to Grand Rapids, MI. It began in the 1870s with the arrival of the Sweedish immegrants who were skilled woodworkers. Rockford began to boom in 1890, but would suffer, like every other industry during the collapse of 1893. Many factories could not make it though this period and since closed. The industry picked up following WWI building product for mass market.
Pehr August Peterson, born in , Sweeden and arrived in Rockford at the age of 6 and worked in Cherry Valley as well as the lumber industry in Wisconsin until he was 29 when he returned to Rockford to sell insurance and real estate.
Having taken some business courses, he was approached by a group of employees of a local furniture manufacturer who were dissatisfied with their situation and were eager to use their skills and open a company of their own, however, none of them were confident enough to run the business aspect of the operation. Peterson would become the secretary of the newly formed Union Furniture Company in the middle of the night of 1876. In the early 1890s fire destroyed the facilty and would move across town, renting from the Rockford Mantle Company.
Peterson lost everything in the crash of 1893, sold off all of his interest in the businesses and paid his debt back to the banks who now owned the companies. Peterson, resigned and took a job as a traveling sale person for a furniture company.
Three years later, Peterson was approached by the banks, who owned the companies. It seemed that they struggled to make a profit and wanted out of the furniture and offered a deal to Peterson for the factories. They offered the companies to Peterson
provided if he could pay back the money they had invested in the companies. Peterson quickly accepted the offer and became president of the Union Furniture company and the Rockford Mantle and Furniture company, merged them together and The Rockford Cabinet Company was Born.
The Rockford Cabinet Company quickly started to turn a profit and and expanded
their operation constructing what was the largest cabinet
manufacturing facility in the world. They could turn around orders faster than any other company, winning contracts with the armed forces, colleges and other institutions. The company stayed in this facility until 1941 and the building was
used by W. Shanhouse & Sons out of Chicago who manufactured uniforms for WWII soldiers and many other lines of clothing ,they would use the building as home office until 1951.
In 1958, the Carter Company, a manufacturer of toys and diecast replica toys OEM for other toy companies and dealers.
They would stay in the building until 1958. The owner in the hall of fame for toy manufacturing and their Tru-Scale Line
There is somewhat some confusion about what happened to the building since, the news reports that it was owned by Asher Tool and there is indeed an asher tool sign in the front, however, a source who rents a building just behind the old cabinet company informed me that, while they leased the building, they never relocated due to the costs of a new roof and thus they remained in the building just across the street.
In early 2000 a man by the name of Joseph Lazar purchased the building from the City and an subsequently put nearly his entire life savings into the building. The building required a new roof, so, instead of selling, he put the rest of the money that he had into building the new roof and structure of wood. He used the building as a warehouse and since the construction of the roof, he did not have enough money to pay for insurance and when the building burned, he lost everything. There are many stories that have surfaced since and all are allegations. There has not been much said about the owner in all of the press about the fire. The source that I spoke with new Lazar and said that he had a passion for the architecture and could be seen working daily at the location and he hasn’t seen him since the fire.
I don’t know what is true and what is not. I am certain that the truth will eventually surface as to what happened, there is no doubt it was arson, but just who caused the blaze and why is unknown. I feel for the man who lost everything that day and loss of the building, a historic piece of Rockford, is unfortunate.
A local group is attempting to save and restore the remaining limestone entrance and mantle which incredibly remains. T-shirts are for sale and donations are accepted to fund the restoration. I hope they are successful as this piece of history is worth saving. Too may times cities simply raze and discard the pieces of history that remains. I am happy to see that there are people who recognize this and realize that it is important to realize where you came from.
Rockford Reminisce – Excellent site for Rockford History and historic photographs
Rockford Furniture History – Excellent Document of the Rockford Furniture history
Genealogy Trails – Historic account of P.A. Peterson.
Rockford Redux – Group attempting to save the Rockford Cabinet Entryway
Bygone Era Clothing – Makers of the T-Shirt with Rockford Cabinet Logo