In 1867 General Grenville Dodge, chief engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad, selected a favorite camping spot on the Crow Creek to be a terminal town for the railroad’s transcontinental line building west from Omaha. When word got out about the decision so many land speculators and entrepreneurs - and gamblers and other assorted boomtown ne’er-do-wells - descended on “Crow Creek Crossing” that there was a town of 4,000 people waiting for the railroad when the track reached the settlement in November of 1867. The appearance of a town where the gradual slope of the prairie meets the steepening grades of the Laramie Mountains where none existed mere weeks before earned Cheyenne the sobriquet of “Magic City of the Plains.”
When the Wyoming Territory was established less than two years later Cheyenne was the largest town in the new territory and was designated the capital, over the grumblings of other more established towns. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, Cheyenne transitioned to the permanent capital, becoming one of America’s least centralized capital cities.
The thing about magic is that it not only makes things appear but disappear as well. And the boom times for the Magic City of the Plains, ushered in by the railroad and vast fortunes made by cattle barons, disappeared and re-appeared with regularity in Cheyenne’s early days. The effect of these economic swings is reflected on the face of Cheyenne even today. There remain downtown opulent buildings from the 1880s and the first decades of the 1900s when Cheyenne’s location on the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental roadway, revitalized the town. The Lincoln Highway, Route 30, ran right down 16th Street. When the Depression skidded Cheyenne’s boom years to a halt in the 1930s few could afford to tear down these historic buildings and replace them with new stock. Often the two-and three-story brick buildings received a modernized facelift instead. Decades later some have been restored to their original facades, leaving an historical imprint on the Cheyenne streetscape.
Our walking tour of the only capital Wyoming has ever known will begin in the shadow of its tallest building, one of only ten gold domed statehouses in the United States...
Wyoming State Capitol
24th & Capitol Avenue
The Ninth Territorial Legislative Assembly authorized $150,000 for the construction of the capitol in 1886 andtwo small wings on the east and west were completed in 1890 to greet Wyoming’s statehood. David Wilber Gibbs, a Toledo, Ohio architect who specialized in courthouse designs, won the commission and delivered a Renaissance Revival composition, rendered in sandstone hauled to the site from quarries in Rawlins, Wyoming and Fort Collins, Colorado. The copper dome that rises 146 feet above the ground is gilded in gold leaf and the yellow cathedral glass was imported from England.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE STATE CAPITOL, WALK DOWN CAPITOL AVENUE.
Charles L. Beatty House/Wyoming Arts Council
2320 Capitol Avenue at southwest corner of 24th Street
Iowa-born Charles L. Beatty came to Pinebluff, Wyoming in 1906 when he was 36. He organized and was named president of the Pinebluff State Bank, helped establish the phone company in town and served five years as mayor. In 1916 Beatty came to Cheyenne to organize the Union Trust Company and that same year he built this Prairie-style home under the dome of the state capitol. Local architect William Dubois drew up the plans. The State purchased the house in 1958 and named it after then-sitting governor, John Kendirck. Most recently it has done duty as the home of the Wyoming Arts Council.
Wyoming Supreme Court
2301 Capitol Avenue
William Dubois was born in Chicago and learned his architecture there and in Albuquerque. In 1901 he was sent to Cheyenne as the supervising architect for the new Carnegie library when he was 21 years old. When the job was done Dubois decided to stay and over the next 50 years became the most prolific architect in Wyoming with more than 100 residences, six churches, and a slew of commercial buildings to his credit. But Dubois was most known for his work on public buildings including the classically flavored Supreme Court Building in 1935-36. In addition to designing government buildings Dubois also served in them - he was elected three times to the Wyoming House of Representatives three times and the Wyoming Senate twice.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
2107 Capitol Avenue at northeast corner of 21st Street
According to contemporary reports Cheyenne was so jacked to see the cathedral built that 5,000 people (the town barely had 11,000 residents at the time) showed up on July 7, 1907 to see the laying of the cornerstone. If that was true the town must have really been stoked when the Gothic Revival structure, fashioned completely of native Wyoming grey sandstone, was finished. Omaha architects Augustus O. Fisher and John D. Lowery contributed the design that included stained glass windows imported from Europe. The final price tag was $125,000.
Lulu McCormick Junior High School/Emerson Building
2001 Capitol Avenue at northeast corner of 20th Street
Frederic Hutchinson Porter was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1890 and studied architecture in Boston and St. Louis. He found his way to Cheyenne and practiced so long and designed so many buildings that when Wyoming began licensing architects in 1951 he was one of four architects to be declared exempt from testing. For this education building in 1929 Porter tapped the Collegiate Gothic style that had been pioneered at Yale University in the previous decade. The Lulu McCormick Junior High School, named for the long-time principal of the Central School, was the first building constructed in Wyoming specifically to be a junior high school.
TURN LEFT ON 21ST STREET AND CONTINUE TO WARREN AVENUE.
300 East 21st St. at northeast corner of Warren Avenue
Until 1904 Wyoming’s chief executive had to make do finding his own living quarters for his family. That changed with the construction of this Neoclassical Governor’s Mansion on plans drawn by Omaha architect Charles Murdock. Looking like a slightly larger house on a corner lot of a residential neighborhood, the mansion and carriage house served all Wyoming governors until 1906. Today it operates as a house museum while the official residence of the Governor of Wyoming is at 5001 Central Avenue.
TURN RIGHT ON WARREN AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON 20TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON CENTRAL AVENUE.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
1908 Central Avenue at northwest corner of 19th Street
The first Episcopal services in Cheyenne were held in a small frame meetinghouse in 1868. The congregation was a favorite of cattle barons and ranchers and with big plans work got underway in 1886 on this English Norman Style meetinghouse based on the 11th century Stoke Poges Church outside London. The building stone is Castle Rock rhyolite and the finest oak was used for the interior. Unfortunately that winter was unusually harsh, killing off cattle and stifling donations to the church. Plans were scaled back and the first services were not held until August 19, 1888. The bell tower would not be complete until 1924. The story goes that during its construction two Swedish stonemasons were working at a height of forty feet when one slipped and fell to his death. The second, fearing deportation, hastily entombed his fallen co-worker’s remains in the tower wall and disappeared. The church has been visited by the Swedish mason’s spirit ever since.
1901 Central Avenue at northeast corner of 19th Street
This splash of Art Deco on the Cheyenne streetscape appeared in 1937. The boxy form blond brick building was decorated with Plains Indian motifs fashioned from terra cotta and given a pair of streamlined entrance marquees.
First United Methodist Church
northeast corner of 18th Street and Central Avenue
With a congregation of nine attended to by a circuit-riding preacher, the first Methodist services were held in Cheyenne on September 29, 1867. Two years later two lots on this corner were obtained from the Union Pacific Railorad for $1.00 and a white frame meetinghouse raised. On March 5, 1876, with pastor W.F. Warren presiding, 39-year old James Butler Hickok from Homer, Illinois, better known as Wild Bill, joined in holy matrimony with a 50-year old circus proprietor namedAgnes Thatcher Lake. Warren expressed his skepticism about the celebrity marriage, recording n the church register: “Don’t think they meant it.” Five months later, Hickok, variously a gunfighter and lawman, stagecoach driver, Union Army soldier and scout, famed marksman, actor and professional gambler was gunned down in a poker game in Deadwood, South Dakota. The current Gothic-influenced church, crafted from locally quarried red sandstone, was dedicated on Easter Sunday 1894 when church membership numbered 55.
1620 Central Avenue at southwest corner of 17th Street
Kentucky-born William Chapin Deming came to Cheyenne with the new century in 1901 to become editor of the Wyoming Tribune Newspaper, which had been started seven years earlier by J.M. Carey as a Republican mouthpiece. In 1904 Deming purchased the paper which became Wyoming’s largest. In 1921 Deming absorbed the Cheyenne Leader that has been publishing under various ownerships since 1867, to create the Wyoming State Tribune. William Dubois provided the Commercial Style design for this 1911 building.
1615 Central Avenue
Senator Francis E. Warren, whose building efforts did more to shape the face of early Cheyenne than any one else, spearheaded the construction of the Lincoln theater in 1929; it was the last building he would construct before his death. Intended as a modern movie palace to screen the new “talkies” that were coming out of Hollywood which the town’s three aging vaudeville stages were not capable of handling. In the age of the Western the Lincoln played host to three world premiers: Cheyenne and Wyoming in 1947 and Jimmy Stewart’s essaying of Wyatt Earp in 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn. The movie house trundles on as the Lincoln Popcorn Palace, looking as it has since a 1953 remodeling.
1601 Central Avenue at northeast corner of 16th Street
The centerpiece of Francis E. Warren’s real estate empire was the Warren Mercantile Building, which he constructed across the street in 1884 in partnership with Amasa R. Converse. The festival marketplace provided indoor space for 25 merchants to ply their wares. Three years later the Burlington Railroad terminated in front of the building and it became the depot for the line. It was all pulled down in the 1920s. Around the Mercantile Building Warren erected several satellite structures including this three-story corner building in 1913. Cheyenne has been coming here for furniture for the better part of a century, first as Gleason’s and most recently, until 2008, as Grier’s. In the beginning horse-drawn wagons delivered the furniture and one of the biggest sellers was coffins. Furniture dealers often doubled as funeral home directors in the olden days. Warren named the store after his long-time furniture department manager in the Mercantile Building. The first floor has been obscured by “modernization” but you can look up to see the ornamental window hoods and notched roofline.
TURN RIGHT ON 16TH STREET.
1600 Central Avenue at northwest corner of 16th Street
Beginning in 1875 the Inter-Ocean Hotel, an elegant three-story Italianate structure, reigned as Cheyenne’s leading hotel. By 1911 the Inter-Ocean was waning and the town was lacking a first-class hotel. Francis Warren led a consortium of investors to fill the void with the lavish Plains Hotel under the guidance of Harry P. Hynds and his wife Nellie. Upon greeting its first guests on March 9, 1911 the local paper was moved to gush that the five-story Plains Hotel “impresses one as a Palace.” It immediately became the place for the state’s power brokers and money men to gather and where visiting celebrities would sign the guest register. The logo of the Plains Hotel seen on the letterhead, china, the long outdoor sign and the tile inset on the street features Chief Little Shield, an Arapaho who visited Cheyenne in 1915 and whose handsome visage Hynds had captured by the town’s leading photographer, J.E. Stimson. In recent years the Plains Hotel has been restored to its revered beginnings.
WALK ACROSS THE PLAZA TO 15TH STREET.
Union Pacific Depot
121 West 15th Street
When the Union Pacific Railroad completed this Romanesque-flavored passenger depot in 1887 it was hailed as the most beautiful railroad station between Omaha and San Francisco, befitting Cheyenne’s status as the line’s most important trade center. Architect Harry Van Brunt, who made his reputation in New York and Boston, moved to Kansas City in the 1880s to design grand stations for the Union Pacific, including this one. He outfitted his structure with multiple arched entrances, prominent gables and a clock tower centerpiece. The colorful red sandstone blocks were quarried in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Union Pacific Depot is the last of the majestic 19th century depots on the original transcontinental railroad and has been restored to its proper glory.
WALK BACK TO 16TH STREET AT THE CORNER OF CAPITOL AVENUE.
1601 Capitol Avenue at northeast corner of 16th Street
William Dubois designed the Majestic Building in 1907 and liked it so much he moved his office here. The client was First National Bank, which would fail in 1924. Dubois’ Colonial Revival design includes keystone lentils and a modillion block cornice. Relics from an earlier age include glass blocks in the sidewalk that allowed light into the basement and a brass-and-copper, hand-operated elevator that is one of the last of its kind.
1602 Capitol Avenue at northwest corner of 16th Street
This was the location of Barney Ford’s Interocean Hotel until it burned in 1916. Ford was an escaped slave from Virginia who made his way to Chicago where he became an active abolitionist. He then traveled to Denver where launched a business empire that included property and hotels from Denver to Cheyenne. Reports from the time indicate that Barney Ford was making the 14th highest income in the Territory. Harry P. Hynds, who was the proprietor of the Plains Hotel, set out to rebuild here after the fire, not with a hotel but a five-story store and office building. And to make sure the building was fireproof Hynds allowed not a single scrap of wood to be used in the construction. Hynds was an Illinois man, a blacksmith and amateur pugilist, who arrived in Cheyenne in 1882. In short order he traded in his anvil to run a saloon and gambling hall while he invested his money in gold mines and oil wells. Clad in terra cotta tile with generous helpings of marble wainscoting and mosaic tile inside, the Hynds Building was another creation of William Dubois. Hynds died in 1933, ending the career of one of Cheyenne’s most colorful entrepreneurs after 50 years in town.
1518 Capitol Avenue at southwest corner of 16th Street
This commercial building has stood since 1882 when it functioned as a wholesale grocery. Later on it was spruced up by Senator Francis Warren to receive guests departing from the Union Pacific Depot as the Normandy Hotel. It was the first hotel in Wyoming Territory with indoor plumbing and gas heat. Since 1943, as the sign is not shy of announcing, the Wrangler retail operation, including its galloping horse on the marquee, has been housed here. Above the compromised street level you can look up and see the elaborate pressed metal cornice.
TURN LEFT AND WALK WEST ON 16TH STREET, THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY.
211 West 16th Street
This building began life in 1887 as a tea room with offices upstairs. In 1907 go-to architect William Dubois was called in to convert the space to a performance hall that would be the Atlas Theatre until it shuttered in December 1929. In addition to the 55-seat hall there was a soda fountain and a penny arcade and the offices became boarding rooms. After the demise of the Atlas the space was revived as the Strand which lasted until 1955. Since 1966 this has been the home of the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players that was founded in 1930 and is one of the oldest community theatre groups in America.
First National Bank
214 West 16th Street
First National was chartered in 1871 as the first national bank in Wyoming. This three-story headquarters was erected in 1882; look above the compromised street level to see molded brickwork, decorated stone lintels and an elaborate metal cornice.
216 West 16th Street
This fanciful mid-block commercial building was raised in 1883 by Francis Emroy Warren, two years before his appointment as the Governor of the Territory of Wyoming and seven years before his election as the first governor of the state. A native of Massachusetts, Warren received the Medal of Honor for gallantry in the Civil War during the siege of Port Hudson on the east bank of the Mississippi River in 1863. Warren resumed farming in Massachusetts after the war but migrated west to Cheyenne in 1868 where he raised cattle, became the town’s leading merchant and invested in real estate. He became the town’s most ambitious builder, launching his efforts with this building dressed in a light pink and gray stone highlighted by a festive, off-kilter oriel window surrounded by Moorish detailing. The date stone on the cornice is similarly moved off the center, slid over to the far side.
1607 Carey Avenue at northeast corner of 16th Street
Fleeing from religious persecution in Eastern Europe, Max Idelman and his brother Abraham arrived in Cheyenne in the 1870s and went into the wholesale liquor business. In 1884 the Idelman Brothers erected this brick structure as the finest commercial building in the town for their burgeoning business that became one of the largest in the West. Customers wandered among whiskey barrels sampling the rye through tubes and checking out the selection of cigars.
301 West 16th Street at southwest corner of Carey Avenue
This showcase Queen Anne building was constructed in 1892 as a saloon and brothel. It features such hallmarks of the exuberant Victorian style as an oriel window, a corner turret, wrought iron balconies and contrasting building materials. When it was competed a local paper enthused that the interior fixtures were “as fine as can be seen in any city west of Chicago.” The liquor kept flowing during Prohibition and continued until the last drink was served in the 1960s. After a period of vacancy the taps are open once again in the Tivoli.
400 West 16th Street at northwest corner of Carey Avenue
They don’t make auto dealerships like this anymore. After it was constructed in 1927 the twin hexagonal turrets became a familiar landmark as one of the first gasoline stations on the historic Lincoln Highway. It is the creation of Frederic Hutchinson Porter. Maurice and William Dinneen operated the most extensive grocery business in 19th century Wyoming. Their first foray into the transportation business came when William purchased a livery business; his first garage was opened in the early 1900s across 16th Street from here. By the 1930s there were Studebakers, Hudsons, REOs, and DeSotos for sale in the Dinneen dealership. Still in the Dinneen family, the building has received a multi-million dollar conversion into retail and office space.
TURN RIGHT ON PIONEER AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON 17TH STREET AND WALK TO CAPITOL AVENUE.
Rocky Mountain Telephone Building
1623 Capitol Avenue at southeast corner of 17th Street
The first telephone directory in America was a single sheet of cardboard issued in New Haven, Connecticut in 1878. But the telephone was so popular in Cheyenne that it required a directory - containing 102 commercial and residential subscribers - by 1881, only five years after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention. The Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company gathered smaller exchanges together in 1883 and in 1906 settled into this operations center of rough-cut stone. The telephone company moved to larger digs in the 1920s and entrepreneur John Arp purchased the building and added a third story to use as a hotel.
TURN LEFT ON CAPITOL AVENUE.
Percy Smith Mercantile Company
1811 Capitol Avenue at northeast corner of 18th Street
This two-story commercial building was constructed in 1927 by Percy Smith, proprietor of “Wyoming’s Largest Furniture Store.” The street level has been modernized with crisp new awnings but Smith originally used an eye-catching metal awning around the his home furnishings emporium. You can look up and see the whimsically carved terra cotta medallions used to hold the metal cables.
1820 Capitol Avenue at southwest corner of 19th Street
The Masons are the oldest fraternal organization in the world and the first known Masonic meeting in Wyoming took place at Independence Rock on July 4th, 1862. The Masonic Temple was one of the most ornate buildings in Cheyenne but it burned in 1903. The three-story brick shell was gutted and many of its distinctive architectural trappings lost but the Romanesque form was retained in the rebuild.
TURN LEFT ON 19TH STREET.
northwest corner of 19th Street and Carey Avenue
This Neoclassical ornament of brick and stone was designed by William R. Dubois and constructed between 1917 and 1919 as the city hall for Cheyenne and the courthouse for Laramie County. Fine Bedford limestone from Indiana was imported for the base, which supports a parade of smooth Ionic columns, and marble for the interior came from Salt Lake City, Utah. The two bodies have since moved on to adjacent blocks. This building replaced the original Laramie County Courthouse that was erected in 1873 as the second house of justice in Wyoming Territory and hosted a session of the legislature that year as well. The denouement of one of Wyoming’s most controversial figures from the Old West, Tom Horn, played out here. Horn came from a Missouri farm to the Southwest when he was 16 years old in 1876 and quickly won renown as scout and tracker. He was hired by the United States Cavalry and later by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to handle investigations in Colorado and Wyoming. After too many cases of shooting first and asking questions later, Horn resigned from the Pinkertons under pressure and was hired as a “cattle detective” by the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association, ostensibly a gun for hire to bring frontier justice to rustlers. Horn’s career came to an end on July 18, 1901 with the shotgun murder of Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of a sheepherding rancher. Horn may or may not have pulled the trigger, but he had certainly killed others and could probably implicate others in high places, so he was arrested, tried and found guilty here. On November 20, 1903, on the eve of his 43rd birthday, Tom Horn was hung on the corner of 19th Street and Pioneer Avenue.
TURN RIGHT ON CAREY AVENUE.
Federal Office Building
308 W. 21st Street at northwest corner of Carey Avenue
This government office building reflects the stripped down classicism favored during the Great Depression when stimulus funds were made available from the National Building Act to alleviate unemployment. Completed in 1932, it is the only building prolific Cheyenne architect William Dubois designed for the federal government. Across the street once stood the Victorian mansion of Joseph Maull Carey, the namesake for the avenue, which was considered the finest in the Wyoming Territory. Carey was a Delaware native who was appointed as the United States attorney for the territory when it was formed in 1869. Within a few years Carey was immersed in business and real estate development in Cheyenne and when Wyoming became a state in 1890 he was elected to the United States Senate. In 1911 he became Wyoming’s eighth governor.
First Presbyterian Church
220 West 22nd Street at northeast corner of Carey Avenue
This is the third house of worship for the congregation that was the first Presbyterian church to be organized in the Wyoming Territory on July 18, 1869. It was raised in 1925 as the church moved from its previous location four blocks down Carey Avenue on 18th Street.
Idelman House/Schrader Funeral Home
2323 Carey Avenue at southeast corner of 24th Street
Merchant prince Max Idelman constructed this turreted Queen Anne mansion in 1890. The picturesque house boasts a wraparound porch, irregular massing, multiple textures in building materials and a dynamic Tuscan arched entrance. The property was sold after Max Idelman’s death in 1913. It has done duty as a funeral home since 1977.
TURN RIGHT ON 24TH STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE WYOMING STATE CAPITOL.