GREENSBURG - The Bromwell Brush & Wire Goods Co. at the corner of First and Ireland streets, is being revamped and it is looking like the handsome building it once was. Just after the turn of the 20th century it was the home of Greensburg's largest business. The company, Bromwell Brush and Wire Goods, has manufactured long-lasting and decorative wire trellis, kitchenware and household goods such as the Classic Tin Cup, All American Flour Sifter and the Original Popcorn Popper. It is the oldest housewares business in the United States and is still in business.
The Bromwell Co. put an advertisement in the Greensburg Standard in April 1903 for “eight acres, satisfied with labor – option $2000. for suitable ground. U.B. Melish, president of the company at that time, was here, looked over the ground and an agreement was made that the Big Four would put in a switch at the proposed site of the Little Brick Yard.
The company established the Greensburg branch in 1904 after purchasing the property in May 1903 from The Greensburg Improvement Association and remained the city's largest employer until 1923 when it was closed.
Alden Westhafer wrote a history in the 1984 Decatur County History about Cyclone Fence in which he wrote, “In April 1928, Cyclone Fence, a subsidiary of US Steel Corporation, acquired the local screen cloth plant at 530 W. First Street from Bromwell Brush and Wire Goods Co.”
Westhafer wrote that the purpose of the acquisition was two-fold, “1) To secure a good outlet for fine wire production of American Steel & Wire, another US Steel Division. 2) To satisfy a debt of considerable size owned by Bromwell to Cyclone.”
According to Westhafer, the first few years that Cyclone owned the property “considerable money and effort was spent in modernizing the plant. A lighting system was installed. The power was changed from a steam engine to electric motors. A new paint tower was installed; a new galvanizing unit was installed; and a new warehouse was built. Sixty-four Kintzing Bar Type looms were acquired along with 16 Modern Mummert-Dixon type looms.”
Westhafer wrote that during the peak years of production (1940-1945) the company employed about 250 people. But business slowed after World War II and in order to keep up employment, Cyclone transferred their Wire Partition and Basket equipment from their Illinois mill to Greensburg. He said they were fighting a losing battle though due to wage rates being tied to a corporation-wide union contract. “The screen competition in the East and South enjoyed wage rates about one-half those paid by Cyclone. A decision was made to disband the Greensburg plant in 1960 and it was sold to Alden Westhafer who was the Cyclone Plant superintendent at that time.”
Westhafer and his wife Dorothy didn't want to move from Greensburg which is why they bought the plant from Cyclone and founded Indiana Wire Products which is still located on North Ireland Street just south of the building on West First Street.
Most Decatur County residents remember the building as the home of the Carol Cook Dress Factory. A news release in 1960 stated that the “Dress plant” would probably double the work force. The company had purchased the building from Alden and Dorothy Westhafer. At the time of the sale, M. H. Polakoff of Shelbyville announced that the company had started renovation of the two floors of the main plant, each floor was 60 feet by 260 feet.
In 1959 the name was changed from Tree City Togs Inc. to Carol Cook Inc. The original company was moved here from West Frankfort, Ill to Greensburg after a fire destroyed the plant. Later that year, they moved to Greensburg where they employed more than 100 employees, mostly women.
The northern section of the company is still used by Indiana Wire Works, the business started by Westhafer. In 1989 a partnership that including local businessman John Reed was formed to build luxury condominiums and a model condo was constructed. It was later decided not to continue with the construction of the condos.
Later the building was listed on the national register as a building of local architectural and historical significance. Its historical importance places it within the context of economic development activity in Greensburg at the turn of the century.
During the past few months the stucco has been removed off of the original brick. Obviously something is being done to the building. Shane Burton, Chief Operating Officer for Developmental Services, Inc. said the project name is Tree City Village that is a LLC owned by Developmental Services, Inc. “Tree City Village is a 39 unit (1 and 2 bedroom) multi-family development located in the “Old Dress Factory,” said Burton. “It is a historic building that has 204 windows that will remain and we are adding dormers to the third floor.”
He said that the project will be marketed to seniors, individuals, young couples and families based on the one and two bedroom composition. Developmental Services Inc., Keller Development Inc., and New Generation Management Inc., were the development team for Tree City Estates. Rent will be restricted at or below 60 percent of area median income (AMI).
Burton said that preliminary analysis of the market shows a need for additional rental housing in Greensburg.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $5.5 million.