Summer Exhibit Series: Businesses in Laramie

The summer exhibit series at the AHC continues to celebrate Laramie’s 150th anniversary with a new theme this week: Businesses in Laramie.

Within weeks of the railroad reaching Laramie, the former “Hell on Wheels” tent town became part of an ever growing and changing landscape as buildings began dotting the landscape. Many of these buildings would come to hold businesses marked by the names of some of Laramie’s most famous residents. These bright new businesses began Laramie’s movement away from its roots as a railroad town towards the business-friendly city it is today.

Many of the city’s most famous residents opened businesses in the current downtown area in the early days of Laramie. Some of these early businesses now only find their names in city records. Sometimes names of their owners are attached to new businesses that have grown out of the ever-changing Laramie landscape. For example, Lovejoy’s Bar and Grill is located at the site of Elmer Lovejoy’s Garage at 101 Grand Avenue.

Businesses like Lovejoy’s Garage, the W. H. Holliday Company, and Root’s Opera House no longer exist in town, but these businesses paved the way for new businesses that are found in Downtown Laramie. Elmer Lovejoy, William Holliday, and Helen Root were famous for their contributions to the city, and their legacy lives on at the AHC.

The AHC holds many collections from the owners of these early businesses, including those of Elmer Lovejoy, the Holliday Family, and Root’s Opera House. Over the next two weeks, the Elmer Lovejoy and Root’s Opera House collections will be highlighted in the exhibit series.


Home appliance demonstration at W.H. Holliday Company, 1924. Holliday Family papers, Accession #347, Box 42, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Elmer Lovejoy was a Laramie businessman who ran a general repair shop, Lovejoy Novelty Works, while also being an inventor. He built and drove Laramie’s first steam-driven automobile in 1902. In 1905, he invented an automobile steering gear, and in 1918 and 1921 he patented designs for automatic garage door openers. Lovejoy also operated a dealership for Franklin automobiles. Lovejoy was active in the Laramie Bicycle Club and was an amateur photographer. His collection contains records books for the Laramie Cycling Club, motion picture film depicting University of Wyoming homecoming parades and commencements, records for his general repair shop, and patents for his automatic door openers.


Elmer Lovejoy’s patent for automatic door opener, 1918. Elmer Lovejoy papers, Accession #176, Box 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming


Root’s Opera House was operated by Helen “Sissy” Root and her brother-in-law Chauncey Root. From 1894 to 1929, the opera house attracted the finest actors, repertory companies, and international singers who performed in popular plays, musical comedies, and concerts. It was the first established theater in Laramie.


Roots Opera House exterior, 1927. Ludwig-Svenson Collection, Accession #167, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The collection contains a scrapbook holding programs for theatrical shows performed at the opera house between 1906 and 1916. Within the scrapbook are also a few advertisements and tabloids promoting upcoming events.


Interior display of playbills at Roots Opera House, March 1920. Ludwig-Svenson Collection, Accession #167, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Businesses in Laramie exhibit runs from June 11 to 25. Exhibits can be viewed in the 4th floor Reading Room. Reading Room hours are 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Monday and 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Tuesday through Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

For more details about Laramie’s 150th anniversary celebration, see Celebratory events are planned all summer and into the fall.

Laramie's 150th

– Post submitted by Katey Parris, AHC Reference Department.

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