The story of The Creamery Arts Center begins with the building. Located on a hillside overlooking Jordan Creek, the smallish river that runs through the historic center of Springfield, The Creamery was an industrial, primarily brick structure dating to the early 20th century. It was originally used as a tobacco factory by the Anthony family, relatives of the famed 19th century suffragist, Susan B. Anthony.
The building had been added to over the decades, in decidedly haphazard fashion, sprouting wings and annexes that were cobbled together rather than functioning as a single organic unit. In addition to serving as a tobacco factory and a cooperage, the structure was also home to the Springfield Creamery Co., a dairy firm known for presenting free musical performances and ice-cream socials on summer evenings, even in the depths of the Great Depression.
Some interior parts of this maze of a building were left unfinished for warehouse use, while other areas offered more finished space to a number of local businesses, including Webster Oil Co., operated by Jack Webster. Another tenant was the fledgling O'Reilly Auto Parts company. Today O'Reilly is the second-largest retailer of auto parts in the U.S., but in the late 1950s it was a small but growing concern led by President Charles F. "Pop" O'Reilly (fifth from left below), and his son, Vice President C.H. "Chub" O'Reilly (sixth from left).
By the 1980s and 1990s, the old building was easy to miss, tucked away down the hill behind Tri-States Laundry, which was located at the northwest corner of Trafficway and today's Hammons Parkway. Owned and operated by Robert and Joyce Mahoney, the cleaning business was known for the replica of the St. Louis Gateway Arch on its main facade. The Mahoneys used one portion of the of the structure primarily as a warehouse to store bulk quantities of the cleaning agents sold by a separate company, Queen City Cleaning Supplies, to regional laundries and dry cleaners.
As the retail and entertainment energy in Springfield moved away from center city toward the suburbs after World War II, the building, like the rest of the city's aging core, was in danger of becoming a backwater—a plight that afflicted mid-sized cities across the nation in the last decades of the 20th century. The story of The Creamery is part of the larger story of how Springfield's leaders set out to bring new energy and life to the city’s downtown area. That task required vision—and that essential ingredient was supplied by a citywide effort to take charge of Springfield's growth, christened Vision 20/20.