Historic Lipton Building Burns in Streator, Ill.

STREATOR, Ill.

Lipton Tea Company’s former four-story blending and distribution facility was gutted this week in a fire of suspicious origin.

The building, nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, was the hub of Lipton’s American operations until 1965 when the company moved to New Jersey.

From 1947 to 1965 Lipton distributed tea blended in the facility to a nine-state area encompassing Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.

Investigators called the Saturday night blaze "suspicious" but could not confirm it was arson. The city has experienced 18 confirmed arson and suspicious fires since May 2011.  Arson experts from the Illinois State Fire Marshal's office visited the site. Local officials asked residents to watch for suspicious activity.

Allan Anderson, who worked at the plant until 1965, told The Ottawa, Ill. Daily Times the fire broke his heart.

At its height, Lipton employed 300 people in Streator, mostly women, he said.

Tea imported from India and South Africa made its way by ship and rail to the Streator plant, where a tea taster eagerly waited to blend it.

Fresh off the boxcar, a woman would fill up several cups of steaming hot water and tea on the fourth floor of the building. She would then report the British tea tasters remarks in short hand, according to Anderson. The tea was blended based on his notes.

The tea would make its way from the blenders to the hoppers who would send the tea down to the second floor to be filled in bags, packaged and shipped out.

The company worked two shifts from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then from 3:30 p.m. to midnight.

Anderson remembers 2:30 p.m. tea breaks.

"We always stopped to have some tea," he said. "There was always hot tea for anyone who wanted it."

Source: Ottawa Daily Times

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