In 1894, inventor Howard Colman partnered with investor W. A. Barber and founded Barber & Colman in a small office in Rockford’s Water Power District. In 1900/1902, Barber & Colman established its first factory building at the southwest corner of Loomis and Rock Streets on what eventually grew into a 20 plus structure manufacturing campus spanning approximately 17 acres. In 1904, the company was officially incorporated as the Barber Colman Company, specializing in the manufacturing of textile machinery. Five new buildings were constructed on the complex by 1907. The company rapidly grew and ventured into several markets, leading to the creation of several new divisions including the Machine Tool Division (1908), Experimental Division (1914), and Electrical Division (1924). By the middle 1970s, Barber–Colman employed up to 3,000 workers at it’s Rockford campus. In all, Howard Colman was credited with 149 industrial patents that fueled the rapid growth of the Barber Colman Company.
In 1942, Howard Colman died in a car accident. The company remained family-owned until the death of Walter Colman (Howard’s son) in 1983. Walter Colman’s death in combination with the ongoing economic recession began the divergence of the Barber Colman Company. In 1984, Reed–Chatwood purchased the textile division along with the property and continued operations. Additionally, Reed-Chatwood leased back a large portion of the campus to the remaining divisions of the Barber Colman Company, including the metal finishing division that was purchased by Siebe PLC in 1987 and later merged to become Invensys. Manufacturing on the campus ceased in 2001, when Reed-Chatwood (later Chatwood, LLC) dissolved.
The historic complex has been vacated since Reed–Chatwood closed its doors in 2001. In 2002, the City of Rockford purchased the property and began the environmental assessment and cleanup process to better position the property for redevelopment. On August 8, 2006, the Barber Colman Campus was recognized by the National Park Service with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Nine historic structures remain on the property and await redevelopment.
Environmental Assessment and Cleanup
Shortly after acquiring the property, the City of Rockford began the environmental assessment and cleanup process to position the campus for redevelopment. Between 2002 and 2005, several rounds of soil and groundwater samples were collected to characterize the site and identify potential contaminant exposure pathways. In 2005, the first cleanup project occurred with the demolition and removal of heavy metal contaminated soils from beneath the former Invensys-Colman Metal Finishing building. Subsequent assessment activities since that time have characterized soil and groundwater contamination and allowed for various cleanup activities to move forward. Most of these activities would not have occurred without brownfields grant dollars secured through the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In 2008 and 2009, US EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grants were used to perform asbestos abatement in the historic structures. Most recently, US EPA Revolving Loan Funds were relied upon to develop the plans and specifications for the balance of the required cleanup work, which will be performed in conjunction with the property’s redevelopment.