Centennial is tucked in between the grasslands of the Laramie Plains and the forests of the Medicine Bow Mountains. For many years, Native Americans visited the area for food and resources. In the 1860s, tie hackers harvested timber for railroad ties in the rush to extend the Union Pacific Railroad across Wyoming, and ranchers began settling the lovely valley to the south. Then, in 1875, gold was discovered and a town was born. Both the mine and the town were given the name Centennial to celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Although the promising vein of gold soon faulted, prospectors continued to prospect and ranchers and timber workers bought supplies in the settlement.
In the early 1900s, financier and entrepreneur Isaac Van Horn of Boston and his associate Fred A. Miller, who were convinced the gold would be rediscovered, decided to turn Centennial into a modern center of business, recreation, and profit. Lots were platted, and a newspaper, bank, exclusive country club, “big modern hotel,” and fish hatchery were planned. Their greatest undertaking was the Laramie, Hahns Peak & Pacific Railway, originally projected to transport the anticipated mineral wealth from Gold Hill, on the west side of the Snowy Range, to Laramie. It was not to be. When the railroad reached Centennial from Laramie in 1907, there was no gold to transport, and the tracks were turned south to carry lumber products, cattle and coal.
Today, Centennial is a town of perhaps 100 people, with restaurants, businesses and hotels. With abundant opportunities for summer and winter recreation and incredible natural beauty right next door, the town remembers its past, enjoys its present and anticipates its future with equal enthusiasm.
Photo Caption: Folks at the General Store
Centennial, Wyoming circa 1907
Nici Self Historical Museum - Highway 130 307-742-7763
Once the depot for the Laramie, Hahns Peak & Pacific Railway, this building was erected in 1907 and originally stood directly west of the museum grounds on the far side of the railroad tracks. The tracks were last used in 1996 and eventually removed, but the raised track bed still can be seen just north of Highway 130. (The tracks crossed the highway just west of the museum grounds and continued down the Centennial Valley through Albany and into Colorado.) The railroad was one of some 15 businesses incorporated by Isaac Van Horn and Fred Miller during a frenzy of empire building that hit Laramie and Albany County early in 1901 and was originally planned to serve the mines at Gold Hill. However, it took six years to build the 30 miles from Laramie to Centennial and by that time the gold had faulted. As a result, the route was changed to take advantage of the timber, livestock, and coal in Colorado’s North Park. The railroad’s golden spike was driven on July 4, 1907, and the Eagles Club of Laramie hosted a great celebration for the occasion.
The depot building was painted yellow with maroon trim, and has been described as having “expensive interior wainscoting.” The railroad agent lived in quarters in the depot and, in subsequent years, the post office and general store occasionally found homes there, as well. The building is now on the National Registry of Historic Places.
From the west window of the museum is a view of the site of the Centennial Mine. On a flat hill to the left of the mine were the first buildings of the exclusive Rocky Mountain Country Club. Because the project was never finished, later residents frequently sent their children to the site to pick up remnants of the building for firewood.
Railroads of Northern Colorado by Kenneth Jessen (Pruett Publishing Co., Boulder, CO, 1982) was a major source for the railroad history included in this tour.
Lars Johnson Beehive Burner
Photo Credit: Nancy Taft, Centennial, WY
The burner was part of a lumber mill located one quarter mile northeast and was built from scratch by Lars Johnson, Verne Anderson, and Les Bayh in the 1920s. As logs from the mountains were brought to the mill, they were transformed into various sizes of lumber; the sawdust and slash were burned, and the lumber was loaded onto railroad cars for transport to Laramie. The buildings from this operation lasted until the mid-1970s. The burner was moved to the museum grounds in 1987.
Original Depot Site
As you leave the museum grounds through the pedestrian gate in the northwest corner, the original site of the depot, which stood parallel to the tracks, is to your south on the east side of the dirt road. There were two locked boxes, one for outgoing and one for incoming mail, attached to the track side of the building. These boxes are now displayed inside the museum building. The postmaster and the train crew had keys for both boxes.
The Mountain View Hotel - Be extremely cautious while crossing State Highway 130!
Photo Caption: Mountain View Hotel circa 1907 – Now the Mountain View Historic Hotel
This historic hotel is the two-story white building just across the highway. In March of 1907, as the railroad tracks were nearing Centennial, Isaac Van Horn announced through the Centennial Post that “Eastern Capital will erect a big modern hotel in Centennial. The cost will be $8000.00, and it will contain 23 rooms and 3 baths with sanitary plumbing.” (The baths eventually appeared in the livery stable.) Although the hotel was to be completed before the July 4th celebration of the first train to Centennial, it was not opened until mid-August. A crew of painters that month painted not only the hotel, but the Centennial Post, the Centennial Trust Company, and the hastily erected dance pavilion, the latter somewhere in the vicinity of the Old Corral. There have been several managers, owners, and uses for the hotel building, but today it has been significantly restored, and in July of 2007 was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the second building in Centennial to earn this recognition.
The Centennial Trust Company
Photo Caption: Centennial Trust Company
Walking west from the hotel and north up Oak Avenue, you will pass the site of the old Ice House, where blocks of ice from Barber Lake were stored in sawdust. On the northeast corner of Oak Avenue and 2nd Street is the building which housed the Centennial Trust Company. The bank commenced operations in 1902 with $10,000 “completely paid in.” By 1907, at the height of the railroad construction, assets had increased to nearly $25,000. The cashier (also the newspaper editor) published this notice in the paper in 1909:
“The Cashier of the Centennial Trust Co. wishes to call attention to the fact that the bank is not a safe place to loiter around after night, without good and sufficient reasons. The cashier is not a dangerous man, but he is nervous at times, and recalling that banks have on occasion been made the victims of those desiring the annexation of immediate wealth, he prepares to take no chances.”
Living quarters for the cashier-editor were in the back rooms of the bank. The porch and side doors were later additions.
The Centennial Post
Photo Caption: Bank building on the left and newspaper building on the right.
To the east of the Centennial Trust Company stands the original home of the Centennial Post. The first issue of this newspaper was printed on July 16, 1902, and its slogan, used throughout the life of the paper (1902-1913), was “With a Mission, Without a Muzzle.” The paper was another of Isaac Van Horn’s efforts to promote Centennial and, in true Van Horn style, it continually extolled the virtues of the town, especially the mines and the railroad. A fair amount of space was also given to the fish hatchery, the country club, the water system, the lumber company, the townsite company, and many other corporations belonging to the Miller-Van Horn Syndicate.
The newspaper’s editor, as noted, was also the cashier of the bank. A succession of 12 or more editors came and went, the primitive equipment sending one of them to the hospital. The building itself was originally white with a false front bearing the name “Centennial Post.” Its west room was added in 1905 and contained the printing presses.
The Old High School
Photo Caption: Old High School
Turn back and head west on 2nd Street for about one block. On the northeast corner of Cedar Avenue and 2nd Street is the site of the old high school, its foundation still distinguishable. Originally, the building was a general store; later, it was used for several years as a high school for the entire Centennial Valley, which eliminated the necessity of students boarding in or traveling to Laramie during the school week.
The first school in the area was probably up in the hills at the Boston-Wyoming Lumber camp. An early photograph shows the teacher and several children watching a bear cub sitting on a stump beside the school. A later school was built in the 1870s on the Christenson Ranch, and then moved to the Nels Engen (Ladder) Ranch south of town. It ended life as a chicken house before burning to the ground. Around 1905, railroad carpenters built a larger school here. It had one room, white clapboard siding, was shaped much like the main portion of the newspaper building, and had two “outbuildings.” Following consolidation in 1962, the current school was constructed and now serves children from kindergarten through sixth grade.
Ice Cream Store
Photo Caption: Ice Cream Store
On a rise to the west of the school is a building that combines several formerly separate structures. The front part, without the high front windows, originally sat across the highway in the triangle of land east of the post office. Here, Mrs. Baily made ice cream in old fashioned hand freezers. When the ice cream was ready, it was buried in sawdust in one of two large wooden boxes attached to the front of the building that served to insulate the containers.
Post Office and Assay Office - Be extremely cautious while crossing State Highway 130!
Crossing the highway, you will see the Post Office. It was built by Mr. Padget, a mining engineer, during the mining boom of the 1920s. After his death, his widow lived there for many years in spite of the skunks which lived under the building. The grassy area south of the Post Office held the Assay Office of the Red Mask Mine. Here, Mr. Padget tested ores to determine their mineral content. In 1972, the building was remodeled to serve as the Centennial Post Office.
Centennial’s first post office, constructed in 1875, was a mile or so south of town; its postmaster, Isaac Lambing, was also the manager of the Centennial Mine. Other post office locations include the former high school, the depot, the Mountain View Hotel, and several residences.
The Mettler House
On the north side of the highway, just west of the Trading Post, stands the Mettler House. The Mettlers were hired in 1907 to be the first managers of the Mountain View Hotel. They lived here for many years, and this was perhaps the first two story residence in Centennial. The Trading Post, now a restaurant and bar, was at one time Peg Nelson’s general store, while the Friendly Store across the street was built to be its competition.
The Old Corral
Photo Caption: The Old Corral circa 1952
Following World War II, Pat and Nici Self bought the boarded-up dance hall and bar and opened a restaurant. The dance hall had been built for the Grand Celebration put on by the Eagles Club of Laramie when the first train reached Centennial in 1907. The Selfs worked hard to turn their Old Corral into a popular spot for wining, dining and dancing. Facilities were primitive. The local light plant furnished enough electricity for lights, but not enough for stoves or heating. The situation eased when the R.E.A. arrived and until 1952, when a tremendous gas explosion burned the entire structure in less than an hour. The Selfs set up business in a small log building nearby and rebuilt. In 1992, the Old Corral burned again, and the new owner rebuilt. It has since been remodeled and expanded by the current owners.
Centennial, whose backyard is the Medicine Bow National Forest, now has several restaurants and cafes, as well as gift stores and accommodations.
The many names of Centennial’s railroad:
(1901-1914) Laramie, Hahns Peak & Pacific Railway (nicknamed “The Laramie Plains Line”)
(1914-1924) Colorado, Wyoming & Eastern Railway
(1924) Northern Colorado & Eastern Railroad
(1924-1951) Laramie, North Park & Western
(1951-1987) Coalmount Branch of the Union Pacific
(1987-1996) Wyoming Colorado Railroad
Photo Caption: Laramie, Hahns Peak & Pacific , No. 4 1911
Photo Caption: Colorado, Wyoming & Eastern, No. 8, 1917
Photo Caption: Laramie, North Park & Western Motor Car 9508, 1937
Map from Laramie to Centennial
Map of Centennial Tour
Secret Places, Open Spaces Some places to note on your trip between Laramie and Centennial on State Highway 130
Railroad, MP1 to MP 27:
An abandoned railroad grade is visible north of the highway. The Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific Railroad was created in 1901 and reached Centennial in 1907, taking six years to cover 30 miles across mostly flat terrain! In 1911, it reached Coalmont, Colorado, and promptly went bankrupt. Several name changes later, it became the Coalmont Branch of the Union Pacific. In the 1980s and 1990s a tourist line carried passengers between Laramie and Foxpark, but this was discontinued in 1996 and the rails and ties removed. A wonderful hiking/biking trail extends for miles atop the grade in the nearby Medicine Bow National Forest.
Big Hollow, Mile Post 4 to MP 14:
To your south is the Big Hallow, the largest deflation feature in North America. Unlike most valleys, which are carved by water. Big Hallow was created by the wind, an example of Aeolian erosion (named for the Greek god, Æolus, “the keeper of the winds”). The process began in the middle to late Pleistocene and continues sporadically today.
Overland Trail Crossing, MP 9
Stop to see the State Historic Marker for the Overland Trail. This trail had been used since the 1840s and became the primary route for transcontinental travel in 1862 when Indian conflicts made the Oregon Trail to the north too dangerous. It became known as the Overland Trail when Ben Holladay’s Overland Stage Company, which carried the U.S. mail, moved to this route. The Union Pacific Railroad, the Lincoln Highway, and I-80 have, in turn, used this same corridor across southern Wyoming.