by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
Ironically, while the Rockford Historical Society is gearing up to move its Rockford Area Museum to the vacant 63rd District Court Building adjacent to Rockford City Hall, at the very same time, what might be the oldest manufacturing facility in Rockford is about to be demolished and removed.
The Burch Body Works facility, located in the very heart of Rockford on the southeast corner of Rum Creek and Monroe St., was until January 2006 the home of Rockford’s oldest continuously operating business. Dating back to 1866, when it manufactured horse drawn carriages and drays, today Burch is an innovative provider of practical solutions for custom work truck applications in the Great Lakes region, across the country, and around the world.
In late December 2005 the employees of Burch purchased the business, but not the property, from its current owner and shortly thereafter relocated the company’s operations to a more suitable manufacturing facility on Childsdale Ave., in Plainfield Township. Speaking for Burch Body Works, LLC, Andrew Laitila said, “We hated to leave Rockford but the antiquated building was beyond repair and a totally unsafe work environment. It was also functionally obsolete and ill suited for any type of commercial business let alone the manufacture and installation of our highly specialized work truck products.”
Upon Burch’s move out of Rockford, the property owner placed the beautiful 6+-acre Rum Creek-side property on the market. All attempts, thus far, to sell the property have been unsuccessful.
In the meantime, for the past six years, the main building on the property has fallen into further disrepair. Even though securely gated and surrounded by an eight-foot chain link fence, the property has been repeatedly trespassed upon and the building broken into and vandalized. More relevant, at some point in early winter 2011 a major portion of the building, on its northeast corner, collapsed in upon itself.
With a great concern for the neighborhood and its citizens and also for those who are illegally entering the property and putting themselves in harms way, the City of Rockford this past spring presented the property owner with a demolition order. The property owner is cooperating and willingly complying, has secured demolition funding, and is currently working through the permitting process.
The City anticipates that the demolition, to be conducted by Pitsch Companies, will commence in the next three to four weeks and may well be underway as you read this. Once begun, the razing will take about two weeks from start to finish. The actual demolition of the building itself is expected to take only a couple of days with the remaining work being removal of the debris, grading and seeding the site.
According to City Hall, all local, state, and federal requirements and guidelines regarding the entire demolition process and its impact on the environment will be strictly monitored and adhered to.
As a footnote to this story, it is interesting to note that when Burch Body Works moved out of the City of Rockford in 2006 they relinquished their claim to being Rockford’s oldest continuously operating business. At the time they had been in business 140 years. Today, with 141 years and counting your hometown newspaper, the Rockford Squire, bears the distinction of being the current oldest continually operating business in Rockford!!