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Nebraska...Our Towns

Fairmont

Fillmore County

Fairmont, the "F" on B&MR's line, a railroad-town from the word "GO." The Fairmont Depot, n.d. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
A panorama view of downtown Fairmont, 1885. Note creamery building at far right.
Present day view of Main Street looking north. [Hilty]

In 1870 only a few sod houses dotted the prairie. Settlers referred to this area as "Hesperia," meaning "a desert wasteland." As the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad planned its westward movement, it hired four men to enter pre-emption claims, each on a quarter-section of land. Told of the bitter winter weather, the men did not attempt to stay in Nebraska through the winter. but returned early the following spring, putting a house in the center of the section, so each could "sleep on his claim." They were overjoyed when surveyors appeared, laying out the grade for a railroad. In October, when the land had been "proved up," it was deeded over to the town site company to be platted.

In 1872 the railroad had arrived, and with it many new settlers. The name was changed to "Fairmont" meaning "fine surroundings and a somewhat elevated position." The new name also placed it in alphabetical order on the railroad's line of stations.

Fairmont grew quickly and by May 26, 1873, it filed incorporation papers. The next few years, however, were anything but joyous. The great grasshopper plague, so huge that it obscured the sun, descended on the area in August 1874. After devouring all the crops, the hoppers ate the handles on shovels and the bark from the newly planted trees. Only by banding together and sharing the meager provisions that arrived from relatives in the East, did the community survive. That spring a diphtheria epidemic took the lives of many children, again devastating the community.

By 1876 the community paused long enough to host a celebration for the nation's centennial. Gathering in the morning, people engaged in games, a grand noon meal, public speakers, and singing. This was the first Old Settlers Picnic, an event still celebrated each year in the community.

Fairmont's first major enterprise was a creamery, organized as a stock company by Wallace Wheeler and J.H.Ruston in 1884. By 1886 it was churning 507 pounds of butter a day, and by 1887 the company, employing many people, was shipping 15,000 pounds of butter a week "back East."

By 1888 the population was pushing 1,800. Disaster again struck the community, first in the January blizzard that took a number of lives, and later in a large fire that destroyed all main street buildings. Those unable to rebuild their stores left Fairmont.

In 1889 the creamery needed to expand to several surrounding towns in order to fill the demands for orders. By 1902 its business exceeded $1 million annually. An order by an eastern firm for 32 carloads of butter was said to be the largest order of its kind placed with a Nebraska company. In 1907 the stockholders voted to move the main office to Omaha and change the name to Fairmont Foods, Inc. There it became more diversified, making ice cream and selling many other products. The company is now owned by Mid-America Dairies.

The original creamery building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stands on our main street. It was donated through private funds to Fillmore County as a museum.

Fairmont has been visited by two U.S.Presidents (William Harrison in 1891 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1900). In World War II, an air base on 1,840 acres south of town. Opened on December 1, 1942, the base soon employed 600 military men and 100 civilians. The addition of a military hospital and telephone service once again brought prosperity to the area. In 1948 the air base was turned over to the state aeronautics department. Today the remaining hangers are used for grain storage.

Fairmont has seen many changes. In the 1880s the town -- largest in the county -- boasted seven lawyers and four doctors. Today legal and medical services are provided by people in surrounding communities. After the town's newspaper, "The Fillmore Chronicle," ceased publication in 1952, a news sheet, referred to as "The Village Voice," documents local events.

Fairmont, located at the crossroads of highways 6 and 81, has a population of 767. The town maintains a post office, grocery store, church, elementary and high school, nursing home, and many other small businesses. Fairmont's motto, reflecting our pioneer spirit, is "You Make The Difference."

By Pat Hilty, Box 185, Geneva, NE 68361