Big plans are underway for the Fairmont Creamery building, but what history is kept in its walls?
The Fairmont Creamery in Moorhead started with a big consideration in mind — its natural cold water source.
MOORHEAD — Standing on the corner of 8th Street and 2nd Avenue in Moorhead, one could glance up at the old brick building that has, for many locals, become like urban wallpaper — a building that's always just been there.
Large, white stenciling from another era indicates what it once was: the Fairmont Creamery. The windows are darkened and everywhere. But to those who know better, those windows are more like a portal back in time, where one can almost see all the local "Rosie the Riveters" hard at work, doing their part for the U.S. soldiers of World War II, hustling and bustling around with their victory rolls tucked behind a net cap in a building that was already older than some of them.
The brick one touches now is the same brick that workers in the Roaring Twenties would touch as they arrived at work in their wool trousers, suspenders and newsboy caps. To some, this is just a brick building. To others who look closer, it's a surviving link to our past that sits up top of an ice-cold gold mine in the ground beneath it.
Ice in its veins
Fairmont was a national dairy brand that originated in Nebraska in 1884. In the early 1920s, when looking to expand into a different region, Fairmont found the Red River Valley, which showed promise due its diversified farms. As explained by Mark Peihl of the Clay County Historical and Cultural Society, while the area was originally known predominantly for small grains like wheat and barley, it had since expanded to dairy and poultry. On top of the diversified farms, Moorhead also sits on top of a large aquifer. Since mechanical refrigeration wasn’t yet developed in the 1920s, the aquifer was the perfect cold water source that was needed for the new large scale dairy factory.
After finding a location with a seemingly unlimited cold water source, Fairmont began building its new location in Moorhead in 1923. In 1924, the location began operations, supplying the area with products such as eggs, milk, butter, cheese, ice cream and poultry. In 1926, after a couple successful years, the Fairmont Creamery began expanding the building. Then, when World War II began, the business had their most major expansion yet.
By 1942, the United States was at war and began contacting companies such as Fairmont Creamery to assist the war effort by making powdered eggs. Fairmont Creamery renovated and expanded to accommodate its new egg dehydrating plant, also leading them to hire over 100 young women in the area to help the effort.
According to the Clay County Historical and Cultural Society, the local women who began working in the powdered egg production line worked eight-hour shifts cracking eggs, making them $12 a week. The women cracked an average of 164 eggs per hour, totaling to over 100 million eggs processed in just one year. The powdered eggs were then sold to the government for Army, Navy and Marine camps in Great Britain, as well as to other allied countries.
Even during this contract, Fairmont continued its production of civilian poultry and products. The company had over 400 employees at the time, with around 75% of them being women. When the war ended in 1945, the creamery completely stopped production of dehydrated eggs and unfortunately had to let go of all 100 employees that were hired specifically for the expansion.
Years later, the factory was bought out by Cass Clay Creamery based in Fargo, and eventually the creamery closed in 1980. Just two years later, the building was bought out by Eventide and was renovated to be a senior living facility. The building was also nominated for the National Registry of Historic Places and still remains on the list today, even after it’s variety of expansions and renovations.
After nearly 40 years as Eventide, the building is now changing a final time this year. After the senior living facility moved out of the building, due to an issue with water damage from a leaked pipe, the building was purchased by Sterling Companies, which plans to renovate the space into an apartment complex with the help of architect and developer Kevin Bartram of Mutchler Bartram Architects. The company completed a similar project in 2020, turning the historic Simon Warehouse into an apartment with 65 unique units.
According to Mitchell Bartram Architects, the apartments are currently projected to be completed in the summer of 2023. In order to keep the historic integrity of the building, guidelines set by the National Register of Historic Places are being closely followed. Besides the replacement of some windows, there are few plans to change the exterior, so the building should remain a familiar landmark of the F-M area. The Fairmont Creamery will continue shining as an important monument to local history as it becomes a new home for the people in its community.