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Historic Downtown Laramie Tour

Historic Downtown Laramie Tour

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The city of Laramie was founded in 1868 as a major stop on the Union Pacific Railroad (U.P.) — a place where steam engines were fueled, repaired, and made ready to haul passengers and freight. Early arrivals on the first trains included a volatile mixture of respectable, hard working citizens from the East and a mixed bag of thugs who rode the rails while trying to stay one step ahead of the law. Within a few months some of the West’s most notorious criminals threatened the town’s very existence, their rowdy and often murderous behavior driving away law-abiding people. Out of desperation, a citizens’ vigilante committee was formed to take control, capturing and hanging some of the worst offenders and causing others to flee to the next end-of-the-tracks town. With law and order established, good people like businessman and philanthropist Edward Ivinson and trail blazing Louisa Swain — the first woman in history to cast a vote in a general election — began to build a prosperous community destined to grow into a progressive university town with a stable economic base.

We encourage you to explore Laramie’s downtown area, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Enjoy the shops, restaurants and historic remnants of this former “hell on-wheels” town. Learn about the places where Laramie’s first citizens lived, worked and made their mark on this historic town. If you’re lucky enough to be close by when a train comes into town today, close your eyes for a minute when you hear its whistle and imagine you have just arrived in the“Gem City of the Plains” more than a century ago. Welcome to Laramie!

2. Lovejoy’s Novelty Works

412 S. 2nd St.

Laramie’s mechanical genius, Elmer Lovejoy, built Wyoming’s first automobile in his bicycle shop a few blocks north. On October 27, 1898 he demonstrated the new machine to a crowd of passengers on the Union Pacific, delaying the train for 20 minutes as the travelers inspected the first horseless carriage most of them had ever seen. He opened his Novelty Works at this location in 1908, and eventually, the street became the Lincoln Highway.

Continue north up 2nd Street.

4. Holliday Buildling

East side of 2nd St. between Custer St. and Garfield St.

As you look at this section of downtown, note that all the buildings are relatively recent. Prior to 1948, the immense four-story Holliday Building took up most of the block and held a number of professionals’ offices including dentists, doctors and lawyers, sales rooms and even an opera house. In 1948, the town’s most devastating fire raged through the building, burning it to the ground along with a number of nearby buildings.

Cross Garfield St. and 2nd St. and continue north on 2nd St.

6. Jensen Building

313 S. 2nd St.

This Italianate building was built about 1900 by the Jensen family and remained in the family for over 90 years. Willis Jensen, a coal dealer, started a furniture store here in 1907 and sold coal, as well. When the last Jensen (who had converted it to a gift shop) sold out in the mid-1980s, the building had a variety of businesses until purchased by a Laramie businessman who removed modern decorations and restored it to its earlier appearance.

Look across 2nd St.

8. 305 S. 2nd St.

Built initially in the late 1880s and then again in 1907, this structure has housed an unusually wide variety of businesses: a sausage factory, a meat market, a boarding house, a pool hall, a doctor’s office, Laramie’s first Safeway store, an appliance shop, a candy store, a billiard parlor, a soda fountain, a craft/fabric stores and today is home to a photography gallery and an old fashioned optician shop.

Continue north, across Grand Ave. and turn east on Grand.

10. Connor Hotel

NE corner of 3rd St. and Grand Ave.

Following the death of her husband, real estate agent Fannie Connor established the Connor Hotel in 1913 as the most luxurious hotel in Laramie. Many weddings, fraternity/sorority dinners, as well as important meetings took place in the Connor. Generally, if anyone of importance visited Laramie, the Connor was the place to stay. It is rumored that German born American writer, political scientist, diplomat and businessman Henry Kissinger stayed at the Connor Hotel while visiting the University of Wyoming.

Today the hotel rooms have been converted into apartments while the street front retail space is home to several Laramie businesses. Cross 3rd St. and continue east to 4th St.

12. City Hall & Fire Station

SE corner of 4th St. and Ivinson St.

Built in 1938 in the Art Deco style, the original main entrance is visible on 4th St. While renovations moved the entrance to its current location on Ivinson, the buildings still house the main city offices and fire station. Continue north on 4th St.

14. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral

SE corner of 4th St. and Ivinson St.

Laramie has been the official home of an Episcopal bishop since Bishop Ethelbert Talbot selected the city to be his See in 1887. The main cathedral building was built in 1896 in the Gothic Revival style and the clock tower and chimes were added in 1916. The limestone for the cathedral was quarried nine miles north of Laramie and is the same stone used for the Edward Ivinson Mansion and many University of Wyoming buildings. Donations of many pieces of art from around the world, most notably the stained glass windows, are also prominent features of the building. Open daily; enter for more information. Head west on Ivinson and cross 3rd St.

16. Ludwig Photo

SW corner of 3rd St. and Ivinson St.

Built in 1925 by Henning Svenson to hold his photo studio, this building occupies the site of Laramie’s first jail. Calamity Jane spent some time in the jail, as did Frank McCall, murderer of Wild Bill Hickok. Henning Svenson arrived in Laramie in 1905 with only his equipment and a dollar in his pocket. To establish himself in the community he made it his goal to photograph every family in Laramie during his first winter here. While he did not complete this task, he did take pictures of 900 people during that short time. His efforts to document the town continued throughout his career and over time he produced nearly 125,000 photos. Many of these pictures have been preserved and can be viewed by the public in the Ludwig-Svenson Studio Collection of the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. Continue west down Ivinson St. for half a block, look across Ivinson St.

18. NW corner of 2nd St. and Ivinson St.

This Italianate style building, built in the late 1870s, was once a three-story structure; the top floor was removed when it was discovered that Laramie’s strong west winds were causing it to shake. The iron stairs on the east facade, a common feature of 19th century architecture, are the ends of tie rods which extend through the building and strengthen the second floor joists. Continue north up 2nd St. for half a block.

20. Elks Lodge

SE corner of 2nd St. and University Ave.

The Elks Lodge was constructed in 1910. It once housed the Elks Apartments along with the club, where out-of-town railroaders could stay when spending the night in Laramie before catching a train home.

22. Buckhorn Bar

114 Ivinson St.

As an early railroad town, Laramie has a long history of supporting saloons and bars, from temporary dance halls to modern microbreweries. While the tent saloons and dance halls of 1868 are long gone, other more permanent establishments remain. In 1913, this building housed Blair and McCune’s Saloon. During the 1930s, the Buckhorn Bar settled in and still retains relics of Laramie’s past, including a bullet hole in the mirror put there by a jealous lover in 1971. Continue west.

24. Hesse Hall

NE corner of 1st St. and Ivinson St.

Built in 1889 by J.F. Hesse, this building operated as a dance hall until George Phillips purchased it and converted it into the Phillips Hotel. As with many early railroad hotels in Laramie, the upstairs portion was partitioned into several small rooms and used as a brothel. Later renovations removed most of these rooms, but several were retained by the bookstore which now occupies the second floor. Cross to the other side of Ivinson St. and return east to 2nd St. Look across 2nd St. and note buildings on the east side of 2nd St.

26. Simon Durlacher Building

203 S. 2nd St.

This building, built in 1872, is among the oldest on the block and features an iron storefront shipped in on the railroad. Simon Durlacher came to Laramie just before the railroad as the manager of a dry goods store. He opened his own store in 1871 in a log cabin, selling men’s clothing on one side and tobacco and jewelry on the other. A year later, the cabin was torn down and construction began on the two-story brick building. Until 1882, the upper floor of the building housed the Masonic Hall Laramie Lodge, of which Durlacher was an active member. In 1883, Durlacher added a basement, plate glass windows, a drinking fountain, and gas lights to his building. Durlacher died in 1893 and by 1897 the store had failed. The Temple of Economy, another local retailer, purchased the store and though it changed hands several times, the building remained a clothing store until the 1980s. Unlike other business owners who utilized the second story of their property as a residence, Durlacher and his family lived in a prominent house at 501 S. 5th St.

28. 206 S. 2nd St.

This was the site of Edward Ivinson’s First National Bank, established in 1873. In the old building, Bill Nye met upstairs in Ivinson Hall, with the “40 Liars Club,” a men’s social group. In 1901, it was Paul Bath’s Billiards. It became Woolworth’s around 1937; after Woolworth’s went out of business, it became an antique store and later a gift shop. Continue south on 2nd St. to the corner of Grand Ave. and 2nd St. Look across 2nd St.

30. NW Corner of 2nd St. & Grand Ave.

W.H. Frazee built this building in the late 19th century to house his mercantile store, the Leader, where he sold dry goods, clothing, furniture, carpets, boots and shoes. This Italianate building has some Romanesque touches, such as semi-circular windows with a matching decorative brick pattern. The energetic projecting cornice and massive chimney also suggest that it was built to last. Walk west down Grand Ave.

32. 107 and 105 Grand Ave.

These buildings and the one around the corner had become dilapidated by the late 20th century. With the updating project called “Landmark Square,” addresses were changed. The one-story building in the photo was 109 Grand; now designated as 107 Grand, it boasts a large glass second story. The problem with 105 Grand can be seen in the photo, when the front was demolished by a runaway truck in 1949. The truck carried a load of corn which is seen spilled on the sidewalk. Grand Avenue was the main east-west highway into town as drivers turned north at 3rd Street.  When the sidewalk collapsed under the weight of the truck, an illegal prohibition-era liquor still was discovered in the portion of the basement that was under the sidewalk. Luckily, no one was killed, but there was an arrest having to do with the still.

1. Union Pacific Railroad Pedestrian Footbridge and Depot

Garfield and 1st Street

Built in 1930 to eliminate dangerous street-level pedestrian crossings and to give U.P. workers easier access to the rail yard, the footbridge spans one of the busiest railroad lines in the United States and is still used today by walkers and bicyclists. The original Laramie passenger depot was two blocks north of here. Destroyed by fire in 1917, its replacement is two blocks south at 1st St. and Kearney. Now a museum, the depot is a graceful reminder of railroading’s glory days. For more information about the depot and museum visit www.laramiedepot.org.

Be sure to pick up a free brochure near the base of the foot bridge for a more complete story of the U.P. in Laramie.  Also, look in the grassy park area just south of the foot bridge for the plaque commemorating the site of the world’s first jury to include women.

Walk south on 1st St. to Custer St., then east on Custer St. to 2nd St., then turn left on 2nd St. and walk north.

3. Triple Hanging

Between Custer St. and Garfield St.

In 1868, a gang of hoodlums led by notorious criminal Asa Moore declared themselves in charge when the newly-elected city council resigned. Two months of bloody rule followed before the townspeople took matters into their own hands. On October 18, 1868, they captured and hanged Moore and two of his henchmen near this site. A fourth troublemaker was hanged the next morning. Note the plaque at 408 S. 2nd St.

 Continue north up 2nd St.

5. WY House for Historic Women

East side of 2nd St., North of Garfield St.

The Wyoming House for Historic Women commemorates the important role Laramie played in the Equality State’s early history. On December 10, 1869, the Wyoming Territorial Legislature guaranteed women political equality, the first state or territory to do so. Three months later, in March 1870, Laramie earned the distinction of being the first city in the world to include women on a jury. Later that same year, on September 6, a 70-year-old housewife, Louisa Swain, cast her ballot in Laramie and became the first woman anywhere in the western world to vote in a general election.

For more information about this facility, visit www.thelouisaswainfoundation.com.

Continue north up 2nd St.

7. Home Bakery

304 S. 2nd St.

For over 100 years the smell of bread and pastries emanated from this location, tempting the appetites of residents and visitors alike. Although not owned or operated by the same proprietors, a bakery at this site is one of Laramie’s most long-standing traditions. (At the time of this printing, the future use of the building was unclear). Before 1901, Western humorist Bill Nye housed the presses of the Laramie Boomerang here, the town’s oldest newspaper. A plaque on the building describes its history. 

Continue north up 2nd St.

9. Wagner Building

209 Grand Ave.

Built in 1924, this five-story, multi-use building housed offices on the first four floors and apartments on the top floor.  Note the materials used in its construction: blended shades of iron-spot tapestry brick; window sills and other horizontal elements of cream-colored terracotta; a sheet-metal cornice; and cubed prismatic glass in the transom windows (which were meant to throw light further into the building’s interior). These were top quality materials popular in the first decades of the 20th Century.

This building now houses residential units for students and young professionals as well as the office for the Laramie Main Street Alliance. Continue east to 3rd St.

11. Carnegie Library (City offices)

NE corner of 4th St. and Grand Ave.

For 75 years this building was home to Laramie’s Carnegie Library, but today, it houses offices for the City of Laramie.

One of many such libraries paid for by the industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, it was built in 1906 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. (The elevator on the west side is a recent addition.) On July 4, 1981, when the library was ready to move out, residents of Laramie lined the streets passing books one-by-one down to the library’s new location at Grand and 8th. Walk north towards Ivinson St., looking across 4th St.

13. Masonic Temple

NE corner of 4th St. and Ivinson St.

Built in the Greek Revival style with classic low pitch roof and front pediment, this building was designed in 1911 by Wilbur A. Hitchcock and constructed by W.H. Holliday and Company. The Greek Revival style, which includes such national icons as the U.S. Capitol Building, had largely fallen out of style by the 1850s throughout most of the rest of the world. The yellow coloration and bright highlights of the building are true to the later years of the movement, when mimicry of the Greek polychrome decorative style became popular. Cross Ivinson St. and walk west.

15. First Interstate Bank

NW corner of 3rd St. and Ivinson St.

Prior to 1962, Laramie’s sixth post office stood here. Torn down to make way for the construction of the present First Interstate Bank, this site highlights the changing regard society has had for older buildings. Look across Ivinson St.

17. Melville C. Brown Building

204 Ivinson St.

This building was built around 1890 to house the law offices of Melville C. Brown, Laramie’s first mayor. After Brown’s hasty resignation soon after his election, Asa Moore’s gang seized the town. Reputed to have called the city “ungovernable,” Brown apparently later changed his mind, returned to Laramie and eventually became a successful attorney. Continue to the corner of Ivinson St. and 2nd St., then look across 2nd St.

19. Empress/Fox Theater

Center of block, west side

The Empress Theater was built by the Holliday Construction Company in 1912 with a neoclassical facade of cut stone; it originally hosted vaudeville, music performances and silent film. In 1938, the Fox Theater Group purchased the building, changing both the name and the facade. When the building opened in 1939 with an Art Deco look, the Laramie Republican ran a special issue which detailed every aspect of the theater’s modern, state-of-the-art design, including a new sound system and rayon carpeting. By 1980, the theater had closed and the building was abandoned. In 2008, it was determined that the building could not be saved and sadly was demolished in 2009. Continue north on 2nd St. to University.

21. Methodist Episcopal Church

NW corner of 2nd and University Ave.

One of the oldest church buildings in Wyoming, the Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1869 on the east side of 2nd St. In the early 1900s, the church was purchased by the Elks Lodge, which chose to build on that lot and therefore moved it diagonally across to the northwest corner. As the building was not rotated, the current 2nd St. façade is the original back of the church building. A plaque on the east side relates its history. Return south on 2nd St. to Ivinson St., walk west down Ivinson St.

23. Kuster Hotel

106-110 Ivinson St.

Built in 1869 at a cost of $5,000, the Kuster Hotel building is the oldest stone building in Laramie. In the early days of Laramie, the Hotel served as a depot for the Ft. Collins and Walden Stage Line; later, and until the 1960s, it was a depot for the Continental Trailways Bus Lines. Extensive remodeling has resulted in the loss of cornices, lintels and arches over the windows. From the alley on the east side you can glimpse the side and rear of the original building. Continue west on Ivinson St.

25. First State Bank Building

SE corner of 2nd St. and Ivinson St.

Built in 1885 to house one of Laramie’s first banks, the building still contains the original vaults. While no longer a bank, the building now serves as a continuation of downtown Laramie’s long tradition of supporting local artisans and entrepreneurs. Today, a gunsmith operates the building.

27. Midwest Block Building

SW corner of 2nd St. and Ivinson St.

During the spring of 1868, this was the site of the “Big Tent,” a gambling and saloon hall which moved from each end-of-tracks town to the next as the railroad was constructed. This building was built in the 1870s. It was remodeled around the turn of the century to include the words “Miller Block” in the cornice.  Later updates produced the current façade, which reads “Midwest Block.”

29. Albany Mutual Building Association

NE corner of 2nd St. and Grand Ave.

In 1919, noted architect Wilbur A. Hitchcock designed a new façade for this building. (Look on the north side to see the original 1892 siding.) Initially, the building contained the Albany National Bank and later the Albany Mutual Building Association, for which Hitchcock served as director. Hitchcock was a prolific architect; by the time of his death in 1930, he had designed over 300 of Laramie’s buildings and homes.

31. 111 Grand Ave.

The upper façade of this structure remains the same as when it was built in 1893. The building has been many things over the years, most notably a brothel, hotel, bakery, cigar factory, saloon, book and record store, shoe store, B&B, gift shop, and most recently, an art gallery.

The current owners purchased the building in 1999 and began interior renovations that are so elegant, they have been written about in newspapers, magazines and featured on HGTV. Continue to the end of Grand Ave.

33. Johnson Hotel

NE corner of 1st St. and Grand Ave.

Built close to the original Union Pacific Depot by John Johnson in 1900 to catch the rail travelers’ attention, the Johnson Hotel was considered one of Laramie’s finest. (The original depot, shown in the photo on page 1, was across 1st St. where the tracks are now.) In 1955, a fire gutted the hotel’s interior, burning six men to death and causing the death of a seventh. Though Johnson later rebuilt the interior, the shift from rail to automobile travel gradually spelled the end of the hotel’s glory days. Today, it remains an icon of historic downtown.