Thursday, September 27, 2012

Creamer's Dairy an iconic part of Fairbanks history and landscape

The farmhouse and barns at Creamer’s Dairy (constructed between 1905 and 1950) could easily have been lost. The dairy closed in 1966, the victim of changing market conditions and new health regulations brought about by statehood. At the same time, the city of Fairbanks was butting up against the formerly rural area and developers were eying the land for city expansion.

However, some people rallied to save the farm from being subdivided. They saw the value in open space and enjoyed watching the annual waterfowl migrations. (The migrating birds were attracted to the grain found in the cow manure spread on the fields and also left in the fields after harvest.)

Local residents were able to convince state legislators and Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel to obtain state funding to purchase the land, but until funding was approved, the people of Fairbanks had to fend off eager developers.

Even in the wake of the devastating 1967 flood, the people of Fairbanks (through The Alaskan Conservation Society) were able to raise $7,000 as earnest money toward the purchase price of the farm. Charles and Don Creamer signed a purchase agreement in December of 1967 for 259 acres of the farm’s land, but not the 12 acres that the farmhouse, barns and other buildings sat on, since the amount the Creamers were asking was more than the buildings’ appraised worth.

A combination of state and federal funds was finally approved in the spring of 1968 and used to purchase the land for the state of Alaska. In May 1968, the farm was put under the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s jurisdiction as the Fairbanks Wildlife Management Area. In 1970, an additional 1,520 acres of adjacent state land was added, bringing the total to about 1,800 acres.

The Creamers sold their remaining property to a land investment company in 1970. According to “A Place for the Birds,” a University of Alaska Fairbanks master’s degree thesis, the new owners did little to maintain the buildings, using them primarily for storage. In fact, borough land records indicate that at one point they planned to tear down the farmhouse, which was in poor condition.

Fortunately for everybody, that did not happen. In 1977, the farm buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which emphasized the buildings’ importance. In 1979, the wildlife management area became part of the state refuge system and was renamed Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. State funds were used to purchase the farm buildings and the 12 acres they sat on in 1982, adding the parcel to the refuge.

The farmhouse was renovated between 1988 and 1992, and the building is now used as an environmental education center. In 2001, the roofs of the barns and creamery were replaced, and a multi-year project was begun this year to renovate the barns and creamery.

Integral to the running of the education center and renovation of the buildings is the nonprofit group Friends of Creamer’s Field. Established in 1990, the organization has worked with the Department of Fish and Game for more than 20 years to utilize the Creamer’s Field refuge for environmental education and help preserve the farm’s history. The organization is spearheading the current restoration project and hopes that, except for initial start-up funds from the state, all funding will come through private or corporate fundraising.



Sources:

  • ·         A Place for the Birds, The Legacy of Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Jessica A. Ryan, 2003, University of Alaska, Fairbanks Master's thesis
  • ·         The History of Creamer’s Dairy, Robin Lewis, 1989, Tanana-Yukon Historical Society
 

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