Ames Monument Named National Historic Landmark

The Ames Monument, located about 20 miles east of Laramie off Interstate 80, is one of 10 newly-designated national historic landmarks announced November 2 by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

The press release, the National Park Service wrote:

The Ames Monument is a pivotal and highly significant work in the career of Henry Hobson Richardson. The simple massing and naturalistic materials of the Ames Monument, designed midway through his career, are a pure manifestation of a critical shift in his architectural design away from a reliance on references to historical stylistic motifs. 

ames2

Ames monument, undated. Photo file, American Heritage Center.

At an elevation of 8,247 feet, this monument stands at what once was the highest point on the route of the Union Pacific Railroad. The tracks were rerouted a few miles to the south in 1901, but the monument still looms over the surrounding plains and can be easily accessed from I-80.

Completed in 1882 at a cost of $64,000, the 300 x 32-foot structure honors Oakes and Oliver Ames, financiers and politicians whose business skills were largely responsible for the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The Ames brothers took control of the management and financing of the Union Pacific portion of the railroad at President Abraham Lincoln’s request. Prior to their involvement with the railroad, only 12 miles of track had been completed. Not long after the railroad’s completion in 1869, however, Oakes Ames found himself at the center of a massive scandal concerning the railroad’s financing.

ames1

Quarrying rock for the monument. Photo file, American Heritage Center.

The monument was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, famed architect of Trinity Church in Boston, and was Richardson’s only commission west of St. Louis. The monument also features two bas-relief sculptures of the Ames brothers—Oakes on the east side, Oliver on the west—crafted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, renowned sculptor whose creations include the Robert Gould Shaw memorial on Boston Common, the Parnell Memorial in Dublin, and a $20 double eagle gold piece for the U.S. Mint.

The Norcross Brothers of Worcester, Massachusetts built the monument, employing some 85 workers who lived on site. Workers cut the stone for the pyramid from a granite outcropping common in the area. They then used oxen teams to skid the stone a half-mile to the work site. The rough-faced granite blocks used to construct the monument in many cases weigh several tons. Workers constructed the pyramid near the remote railroad town of town of Sherman, where passengers were encouraged to get off (and look at the pyramid) while the engines were changed. Sherman became a ghost town once the railroad tracks were moved, with nothing left today but crumbling foundations, including those of the roundhouse and turntable.

ah003627

Ames monument with sightseers and a car. Photo file, American Heritage Center.

Blogger Phil Patton wrote after a visit to the monument in 2009:

“Oliver and Oakes Ames are now largely forgotten by the public, but those few who come across the pyramid are forced to consider their identity. The monument is testimony to the frailty of historical memory—and its power.”

– Leslie Waggener, associate archivist

Courtesy of WyoHistory.org, the National Registry of Historical Places Inventory Nomination form, and Phil Patton

This entry was posted in Western history, Wyoming history. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s