The Fairmont Creamery
It is still one of the most captivating buildings in Lawton, a multistory fortress of red brick occupying a solid city block, its signature narrow smokestack rising above almost everything else in the downtown industrial zone.
But if it’s still imposing enough to demand attention, in its heyday the Fairmont Creamery at 411 SE Larrance Avenue was not only recognizable, it was a center of attention, an absolute beehive that employed well over 100 people who turned the milk of thousands of dairy cows into ice cream, cottage cheese and other products consumed by generations of Lawtonians.
The creamery that stands today was built in 1929, with expansions added in 1979 and 1985, but the Fairmont Co. actually came to the still budding town of Lawton in 1905, according to Travis Warner, who took over care of the creamery four years ago with his brother, Derek Pever.
“Talking to old-timers and to my father, in 1905 it was originally right by the railroad tracks and people would come in and set up next to it to sell fruits and vegetables from carts, and it was like a market here every weekend,” Warner said.
Though most of the equipment that made the creamery what it was has now been removed, standing inside the 70,000-square-foot building, one can still get a sense of its rich history.
“At that time, it was actually the first state-of-the-art factory in Lawton,” Warner said, pointing out stout concrete columns rising from the building’s foundation to support the tremendous weight of the second-story concrete floor, which is 28 inches thick in places.
Warner has never seen accountings of how much milk flowed through the creamery or of how much ice cream or other dairy products shipped out on a day-to-day basis. He points out though, where a 10,000-gallon tank sat on the first floor for storing milk. On the second floor were another 10,000-gallon milk storage tank and two more that held 5,000 gallons each.
Nearby, the original freight elevator still stands in its shaft.
“When we were doing the (interior) demolition we got it working and used it,” he said.
In an area on the second floor where creamery employees once gathered before work, the doors of old wooden lockers stand open, as if left that way for a final inspection.
Down below, in the basement, Warner points to a dark space beneath some stairs where the building’s original blueprints were found.
“My dad was really excited about finding them,” he said.
There were offices in the basement, and a massive boiler that produced steam used by the factory.
On this recent day in mid-August, it was nothing if not hot inside the cavernous building, but when the Fairmont was a busy business concern, it was kept very cold inside.
“There were just miles and miles and miles of piping that went through here to keep it chilled.” Warner said. He points out a hole in an interior wall where a conveyor once swept ice cream being made through a “chill room” kept beyond chilly and, indeed, well below freezing.
“There was a conveyor that went through and by the time the ice cream passed through in 48 feet it was frozen solid,” he said.
The Fairmont Co. pulled out of Lawton in the 1970s. The creamery was then operated for a time by Farm Fresh, but has stood vacant for the past several years. Warner’s father, Joe Warner, bought it in 1995 and it remains under ownership of Fairmont Rentals, which he established.
Old Fairmont building reminds Lawtonians of creamy past
Lawton Constitution, The (OK) – Sunday, August 31, 2008
Author: STEVE METZER ; STAFF WRITER