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Empire Refineries Inc. Plant

Location Class:
Built: 1909 | Abandoned: 1982
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: Michael SchwarzEmily Cowan

Okmulgee in the early 1900s was a hub for the oil industry. In 1909 the Empire Refineries Inc. was a large operation in Okmulgee just along the Okmulgee River and conveniently next to the S.F.R.R tracks. The refinery was a big supplier of jobs in town with a hundred employees or more at any given time. The operation was partly responsible for keeping Okmulgee as a growing boomtown rather than one that hit a peak and then had the population diminish.

The Empire Refinery Inc. lasted on the grounds until around the 1950s, it then became the Gold Kist Peanut Growers Plant. This is what a lot of the locals know it to be today “the old peanut plant”. The Peanut Plant lasted nearly thirty years creating a thriving peanut market for Okmulgee and was one of a handful of Gold Kist plants in Oklahoma and one of a hundred plus within the United States. The plant closed in 1982 after the grounds were discovered to have leftover toxins from its oil refinery days.

It was in 1997 after sitting vacant for almost twenty years that the Phillips Petroleum Company agreed to cleanse the property of its harmful chemicals. The first phase was tackled with $400,000 which included securing the property, 24-hour surveillance and barricades. The second phase cost around $200,000 and included drilling water wells and installing monitors to test for airborne asbestos particles, both methods yielded no signs of any airborne hazards. Then barrels of hazardous waste that hadn’t been properly disposed of and left on the property was hauled off to a waste site. The third phase of the cleanup operation was the removal of asbestos which had been a popular insulation material in past years to keep the crude hot. By the time 98% of the buildings were demolished the third phase had burned a sizeable hole in the pockets of those in charge of the cleanup, a $4 million hole to be exact. Only two buildings remain on the site as of 2020, below is a video of the grounds in 1991:

Article by AOK Photojournalist Emily Cowan


“20 Mar 1968, 1 – The Daily Oklahoman at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/452119483/?terms=kist%2Bpeanut%2Bplant%2Bokmulgee.

“23 Dec 1928, 6 – Sunday Times Democrat at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/665441683/?terms=empire%20refineries%20inc%20okmulgee&match=1.

“Environmental Cleanup to Resume at Former Refinery Site in Stephens County.” Oklahoman.com, 22 July 2018, oklahoman.com/article/5602018/comanche-citizens-still-skeptical-as-work-is-set-to-resume-at-former-refinery.

YAEGER, JEAN. “Abandoned Refinery Gets a Cleaning.” Tulsa World, 27 Feb. 2019, tulsaworld.com/archive/abandoned-refinery-gets-a-cleaning/article_1aefb44d-45be-59fe-a2c7-b86a3fa64e79.html.

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Emily Cowan

Emily was brought into the Abandoned OK Team in December of 2019. “I’m not gonna lie I fangirled a bit. My first published post I was ecstatic, I felt like I finally had the right audience for my work. The opportunities that came with it made me love the website even more. I remember my first interview with a couple at Waukomis Christian Church. They had bought and restored the 1897 church and insisted on keeping the original sanctuary despite being advised on moving it. We talked with them for at least a good 40 minutes about the church, the abandoned Waukomis Middle School beside it, and the towns other disappearing buildings. They even rang the bell for us that has sat in the bell-tower for the last 120 something years ago. We could tell they were just as passionate about preserving Oklahoma’s dwindling history as we were. When interviewing people and hearing the first-hand stories and recollections of a place and seeing how a person connects to a building, it forms a connection between not only you and that person but yourself and that building.”

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