The resurrected Starline Factory is a hub for local business, community arts and celebratory events, all rolled into one.
When Orrin Kinney first purchased a section of the Starline Factory in Harvard, Illinois, in the late 1990s, he had every intention of staying true to the structure’s manufacturing roots. As the owner of two building supply companies, he saw part of the 1883 building, which had sat vacant for more than a decade, as an ideal production facility.
“We started out wanting part of the complex for manufacturing,” Kinney explains. “But we had to buy some parts of the building that we weren’t too interested in. The city had won the right to tear it down, but because of the cost of the teardown, nobody was interested in it at the time. So, I ended up with it because I wanted the newer building on the other end of the complex. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with [the rest of it], but I did enjoy the character of what was there.”
According to Kinney, what was there was hardly a functioning structure. “The third floor was on the first floor, all the windows were busted out, and it looked like one big mound of debris,” Kinney says. He had started to slowly rehab one of the building’s larger rooms, when a great-great-granddaughter of one of the founders of the Starline Factory stopped by and asked to hold her wedding in the building… in three months! “I went, ‘Holy mackerel,’” Kinney says. “But we pitched in and we worked on it and we made it by the skin of our teeth. I was invited to the wedding and I looked around and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe that’s what it’s meant to be.’”
Now, the Starline Factory is a multi-functional facility, combining manufacturing, arts, events and community initiatives under one very large roof. On the north end of the 278,000-square-foot complex, a range of local businesses, including Kinney’s companies, Harvard Products, Inc. and Steel Span, manufacture everything from doors and windows to custom cabinets and steel staircases. On the other end of the building, three high-end event spaces, a kitchen, a pub and a chapel, provide exceptional settings for any type of event. Also scattered throughout the building are artists’ studios, which Kinney rents out to more than 35 local artists, providing workspaces for everyone, from clothing designers to painters to potters and photographers.
Like the event spaces, providing artist studios was the result of a simple request. “Someone wanted a studio space, so we started with one studio,” Kinney says. Now, Starline Factory has evolved into a community arts hub, thanks in part to their popular monthly event, started by a few of the resident artists. On the fourth Friday of every month, the building hosts the appropriately named 4th Fridays, with group and solo art exhibits, open studios, artist vendors and live music from three different local bands positioned around the building. The event regularly attracts 400-500 people, and has become a monthly must-visit event for the surrounding community, who come to check out local artists, then stay for dinner and drinks in the on-site Stanchion Pub.
Creation and innovation have always been the foundation of the Starline Factory building. The original owners of the building, Hunt, Helm, Ferris & Co., invented more than 50 products and acquired more than 200 patents that allowed farms to more easily grow and develop. Hay carriers, cattle feeders and barbed wire stretchers are just a few examples of these. “They helped build the country with the products they developed,” Kinney says. A second division of the company created toys, including toy wagons and sleds. The company renamed itself Starline in the 1930s due to their reputation as a “star” in the farm product world, and in subsequent decades, they added window and door parts to their repertoire. But the company succumbed to mergers, bad investors and ultimately bankruptcy in the 1980s, with Starline shuttering operations and leaving the building vacant. This is, until Kinney came along.[metaslider id=”3625″]
With the restoration of the space, Kinney has worked to maintain the rich architectural history while adding elements and amenities that appeal to modern life. Some of the many changes include adding skylights for additional natural light, creating a walkway and patio area on what used to be the shipping dock, and converting the former boiler room, located in the center of the building, into a plant-filled atrium. For many of the projects, Kinney has had the help of local Harvard craftspeople and manufacturers. He’s also been able to involve his own companies as well.
“We have architects who have been out, and they marvel at the building because there are so many different areas that are good examples of architectural applications, of how modern buildings have developed,” Kinney says. With modern events in mind, there are three different rooms with a wide range of capacities, from 20 people up to 500. In these spaces we’re able to accommodate a wide range of events, from weddings to baby showers or corporate and community fundraisers. There are also three different bridal rooms, and a recently added chapel, filled with pews and an organ from a 1917 church that closed in Woodstock, Illinois.
Kinney and his wife, Karen, moved to Harvard in 1981, and he credits the support of the local community for helping to achieve his vision. “Harvard has been very supportive through the years,” he says. “We have people come out and take a tour and they say, ‘This is in Harvard?’ We’re attracting people, and that’s what every small-town needs.”
The Starline Factory has come a long way from a pile of debris to an expansive, beautiful space that celebrates community, arts, local manufacturing, and a place to celebrate life’s most memorable moments.
By Molly Each
Photography by Matt Haas