Historical Notes on The Creamery

  • The original part of the building, located on the west end, was built in the late 1800s and used as a tobacco warehouse. Cigar makers who emigrated from Germany made Springfield a cigar-making center in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • Mr. W.P. Keltner and Mr. George Baxter established the Springfield Creamery Company, a large and successful business serving Springfield, southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas from 1920-1940.
  • The building became O’Reilly Automotive’s first store and distribution center in 1957 under the company’s chief executives — President Charles F. O’Reilly, known as “Pop” O’Reilly, and Vice President and General Manager C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly.
  • The building’s location was part of a commercial-industrial corridor that included Tri States Service laundry, the Greyhound Bus Station, Thompson Pontiac-Cadillac and the Sears warehouse. The Creamery is the only building that was retained for the 12-acre Jordan Valley Park created through the citizen-led Vision 2020 plan for Springfield and Greene County that began in 1994.
  • The Creamery Arts Center opened in 2002 as a headquarters for community arts groups. More than 30 organizations now use the building and about 30,000 people use the Creamery annually.

The Story of the Springfield Creamery Company

By Chester Morton, age 87

"The red brick building that they are planning to place in the new Jordan Valley Park downtown is over 100 years old. It is the former home of a local long time business called “The Springfield Creamery Co.” It was established by two local men — Mr. W. P. Keltner and Mr. George Baxter. In the 1920s and 1930s it was a large and successful business, and became almost an institution in Springfield, Southern Missouri, and Northwest Arkansas.

My father, William Morton, was the chief engineer for 38 years. I worked my way through high school there. In 1933 I graduated from Springfield Senior High, and began to work at the Creamery as an operating engineer. I operated the steam boilers and all the refrigeration machinery.

The Springfield Creamery manufactured ice cream — sweet cream butter — and after churning the butter they had hundreds of gallons of buttermilk left over. This buttermilk was sprayed onto steam-heated rolls and the sheets were ground up. The powder was packaged in 100 lb. Burlap bags and marketed for hog food. The hog farmers really liked this hog food. The company had another department that made a product they called “fly-hike.” It was sold in gallon buckets and farmers used it to control the flies at milk time.

This company also owned and operated the Gateway Creamery Co. in Joplin, MO, and the Clover Valley Creamery in St. Louis, MO.

This company also had a department that made ice and several tons of crystal clear ice was produced each day. This was the days before electric refrigerators came on, and ice was in great demand. They sold ice retail, and wholesale and had sales docks where people could pick up their ice for the wooden iceboxes everyone had. The ice was frozen into 300-pound cakes, and they had a mechanical machine that sawed the 300 lb. Cakes into smaller cakes — 100- 50- and 25 lb. Pieces. All the cars had steel bumpers back then and people would drive by, and the attendant would place the ice on the car bumpers. They had steel tongs to handle their ice. A company here in Springfield was the Merchents Ice Co. and they had horses and ice wagons, and delivered door to door in neighborhoods.

The railroads bought the 300 cakes of ice for their refrigerated boxcars and they used tons and tons of the 300 lb. Cakes. The company called their products Banquet Ice Cream and Butter. They made many flavors — and their “Banquet Special” was a household special. The company’s phone number was 200 and all their advertisements read, “Call 200 and make every meal a Banquet.” They put the ice cream in 2½ gal. and 5 gal. metal cans lined with waxed parchment paper. They also packaged 1 gal., ½ gal. and pints in cardboard cartons. They also made the ever-popular “Eskimo Pies” and individually wrapped slices of ice cream — called “brick” ice cream.

The company was very civic minded and contributed to many causes. The 1930s was Depression time and people struggled to make a decent living. And also the summers were very hot and dry. Springfield’s only source for water was Fulbright Springs and McDaniel Lake. In the hot dry summers there was a very severe water shortage, and many people had no water at all.

The Creamery had a very deep well and pumped out thousands of gallons of clear, cold water. The company laid a large pipeline out into the middle of the plant employees’ parking lot. They put spigots on it and invited everyone who was out of water to help themselves to it. So daily, there were hundreds of people with glass jugs and buckets lined up to get water. Most of them came after their workday — so the lines remained well into the night. The cool clear and pure water was deeply appreciated by everyone, and people in the long lines were polite and cordial to each other.

Another thing I remember — there was a small neighborhood community that was very poor and really hard hit by the deep depression. Most of them had small children. They all had heating stoves but no money to buy fuel. The Creamery bought rail car loads of coal for their boilers. So the Company allowed the families to come and get a bucket of coal for each night. This was a big “boost” for the hard hit families.

Another thing the company did was quite unusual, too. They owned a large plot of property just south of the plant location. They made a lovely little park out of it. They kept a full time gardener. The flowers and shrubs were beautiful and Mr. Moon was noted for his flowers in the little park. The company built wooden bleachers and a stage in the park — and on Saturday evenings they invited everyone to hear a band concert — and gave the people free ice cream. This was very popular and people really appreciated it. Everyone was well behaved and there was never any trouble.

I would very much like to see the building worked into the new park, as I feel that this company was an integral part of the community for many years."

—Chester Morton

Note: Mr. Morton told us that at least two other creameries operated in Springfield. The Producer’s Creamery was in the MFA building; Patton Creamery was on Campbell. Producers may have been a chain as there was a Producer’s Creamery in Springfield, Illinois. There was a Creamery associated with Kraft foods but we have not identified which one. There is also some evidence that Patton and Springfield Creamery may have merged at one time.

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