Summer Exhibit Series: Laramie Architecture

The summer exhibit series at the American Heritage Center celebrating Laramie’s 150th anniversary brings out a new theme this week: Buildings in Laramie.

The “Hell on Wheels” tent town that greeted the official arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad in Laramie on May 4, 1868, was soon replaced with a milieu of bustling life and buildings. Within two weeks of the railroad reaching Laramie, shanties of boards, logs, ties, and canvas popped up around the tracks with 400 town lots also having been sold.

With the Union Pacific providing jobs through the construction of shops and a roundhouse, soon the town included a public school, three churches, and a national bank. By 1890, these buildings had increased to include an electric light plant, rolling mills, soda works, planning mills, a brewery, flour mill, glassworks, brick kilns, stone quarries, a railroad tie treatment plant, and a soap factory. Public buildings had expanded to include a courthouse, city hall, territorial prison, and various mercantile establishments.


Laramie architectural walking tour brochure from 1989. T.A. Larson papers, Accession #400029, Box 29, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The AHC is home to diverse collections containing various types of materials depicting the buildings that have dotted Laramie’s landscape over the last 150 years. Over the next two weeks, two collections will display a variety of buildings in Laramie. These two collections are the Hitchcock & Hitchcock (Firm) papers and Wyoming postcards found in the James L. Ehernberger Western Railroad Collection.

Hitchcock & Hitchcock was an architectural firm that operated in Laramie from the 1940s to the late 1980s. The founders, brothers Eliot and Clinton, worked on various projects across the city and the collection contains blueprints from their work.

Eliot and Clinton were the sons of Wilbur A. Hitchcock, who was a professor of civil engineering at the University of Wyoming from 1912 to 1921. In 1921 Wilbur opened a private architectural firm in Laramie and often collaborated with William Dubois, an architect from Cheyenne. The collection also contains blueprints from Wilbur’s architectural work in the 1910s and 20s.


A drawing of the original Ivinson Hospital, once located at 10th and Ivinson. The building  was designed by Wilbur Hitchcock. It operated as a hospital from 1916 to 1973. Hitchcock & Hitchcock (Firm) records, Accession #9921, Box 112, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

James L. Ehernberger was a dispatcher for the Union Pacific Railroad and is a published historian of railroad history in the western United States. He has collected a variety of records documenting railroads history in the West as well as a collection of Wyoming postcards.


Commemorative reproduction poster of the original Union Pacific Railroad advertisement celebrating the opening of the Union Pacific Railroad. James L. Ehernberger Western Railroad Collection, Accession #10674, Box 647, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Buildings in Laramie exhibits runs from May 14 to May 29. Exhibits can be viewed in the 4th floor Reading Room of the American Heritage Center. The 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

– Submitted by Katey Parris, AHC Reference Department.

Posted in announcements, architectural history, community collections, Construction, Current events, events, exhibits, found in the archive, Laramie 150th Anniversary, Local history, Railroad History, Transportation history, Uncategorized, Western history, Westward migration, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cementing a Relationship: How Concrete brought New Mexicans to Wyoming

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was one event that led to Hispanics first settling in Wyoming, as it brought the U.S. Army into Wyoming. Only shortly after the war ended, the United States sent the Regiment of Mounted Rifles to occupy what had been a private fort in Wyoming to secure part of the early Oregon Trail. That fort was Fort Laramie, which would go on to have one of the most significant roles of any frontier fort in the West. When the army occupied Fort Laramie, its structures were worn and the post was inadequate for its task. Therefore, the army immediately took to rebuilding the post.

In its early days, Fort Laramie was not much more than a simple stockade, but as soon as the army began to occupy it, that changed. Part of that change was brought about by the importation of labor from New Mexico. And that had to do with concrete.

Concrete as a construction material dates back to the Romans, but it was little used in the Western world until the late 19th century, which was due in part to the manufacturing process becoming obscure and in part because the types of concrete commonly known following Rome’s decline were slow setting and somewhat hard to make. However, concrete remained a construction material elsewhere in the world, including the Spanish world.

Ft Laramie 1849

Fort Laramie in 1849 as sketched by Oregon Trail traveler James Wilkins. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

While it’s popular to imagine everything in New Mexico of this era as being constructed of adobe bricks, in fact, concrete was a common construction material. With the occupation of New Mexico by the U.S. Army during the Mexican War, this fact became known to the army, which was impressed with concrete.

When the army went to reconstruct Fort Laramie, concrete was the choice for the new buildings. That choice in turn required the importation of laborers who knew how to make it and build on it. Those laborers were New Mexican Hispanics.

Those laborers were brought by the army in the late 1840s. The men, who also brought their families, were also farmers. So, once they completed their task, they turned to another part of their skill set: farming.

The farms created by the New Mexican artisans were located some distance away from Fort Laramie in an area visible from the Oregon Trail. The area became known as Mexican Hill, located near present day Guernsey, Wyoming. The farmers who located there used the presence of the trail for market purposes, selling fresh vegetables to travelers.

The story falls off from there. There no longer appeared to be a presence of New Mexican immigrants into the 20th century. But the structures they created at Fort Laramie remained, albeit now in ruins. But that’s more than can be said about the stick-frame buildings that the army generally constructed at its more permanent facilities in the same era.

Excerpted from On This Day in Wyoming History by Patrick T. Holscher, pp. 187-192.

Posted in Agricultural history, Construction, Fort Laramie, Immigration, Local history, military history, Oregon trail, Uncategorized, Under-documented communities, Western history, Westward migration, Wyoming history | Leave a comment

New AHC Digital Archivist Sets Sights on Access

The AHC recently welcomed a new Digital Archivist, Rachel Gattermeyer. In her position, Rachel plans to increase the accessibility of the AHC’s born-digital collections, identify new directions for digital preservation, and work with other departments at the University to share the Center’s broad range of materials.


“I am thrilled to be working at the AHC,” says Rachel. “The American Heritage Center has a strong reputation in the archival profession for innovative practices and exploring new approaches to preservation and access. It’s great that I can be a part of that.”

Rachel comes to Wyoming with her master’s degree in Library and Information Science, with a concentration in Data Curation, from a top ranked program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

After receiving her degree, she worked as a Digital Archivist at a small religious archive for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati, Ohio. There she created a digital preservation program that captured a backlog of 10 years’ worth of materials and provided online access to photographs and documents of the Order’s early years in the United States.

“For me, access to archival collections is crucial.” Why put in the hard work to preserve the records if only to hide them away? I want to make our born-digital collections more available to our community, whether it’s used for research, casual browsing, or somewhere in between. The AHC has a fantastic variety of materials. I want to invite our community to use our records, and sharing our digital materials online is an excellent way to do this.”

The digital preservation program at the AHC handles born-digital records, which are records created originally on a computer or other digital device. There are currently over 180 digital collections under the Center’s care, which contain about 8TB of data and include video, audio, text, and photos.

Rachel can be reached at or at 307-766-5614.

Posted in announcements, Digital collections, faculty/staff profiles, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming | Tagged | Leave a comment

Summer Exhibit Series: Railroads in Laramie

The summer exhibit series at the American Heritage Center celebrating Laramie’s 150th anniversary kicks off this week with materials relating to railroad history in Laramie.

On May 4, 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad reached Laramie, bringing with it new people, and within a few days, regular train service to Laramie. A “Hell on Wheels” tent town soon became a bustling city with permanent structures.

Over the next 150 years, the railroad would bring goods, services, people and eventually history to Laramie. The creation of Laramie was dependent on the railroad and the history of the two are intertwined as depicted in newspapers, images, blueprints, and various other materials of their time.

The AHC is home to a variety of collections that depict the railroad history of Laramie. Two collections that will be highlighted during the first two weeks of the series, themed on railroads in Laramie, are the John Stephen and Francis Jennings Casement papers (much of which is digitized and available online) and the Daniel H. Davis Railroad collection.

John S. “Jack” Casement served in the Civil War before obtaining a contract to perform track laying and grading for the Union Pacific’s transcontinental line with his brother Daniel. The majority of the Casement collection contains letters between Jack and his wife Frances during Jack’s time constructing the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, to Promontory Point, Utah.

P 1 Casement

P 2 Casement.jpg

Two-page letter from Jack Casement to his wife, May 8, 1868. John Stephen and Francis Jennings Casement papers, Accession #308, Box 1, Folder 7. UW American Heritage Center.

Daniel H. Davis was a collector of Snowy Range and Laramie area railroad materials, including the Union Pacific and Laramie, North Park, and Western Railroads. His collection contains a single oversize box with various Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) drawings of the Laramie rail yards, round house, and drawings of the Laramie, North Park and Western Railroad (LNP&W) line.

The “Railroads in Laramie” exhibits will run from April 30 to May 14. Exhibits can be viewed in the 4th floor Reading Room. Reading Room hours are 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday and 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Tuesday through Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday.


Railroad yards in Laramie, 1869-70. Clarice Whittenburg papers, Accession #400066, Box 31. UW American Heritage Center.

Laramie's 150th

Post submitted by Katey Parris, AHC Reference Department

Posted in announcements, Current events, Digital collections, exhibits, found in the archive, Local history, Railroad History, Transportation history, Uncategorized, Western history, Westward migration, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

It’s Time to Celebrate Laramie’s 150th Anniversary!

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Laramie, the American Heritage Center is hosting a summer exhibit series spotlighting collections that depict Laramie life and history throughout the last 150 years.

The themed exhibits will change weekly, highlighting various parts of Laramie’s history and some of the city’s most prominent people.

The summer exhibit series begins April 30 and runs through September 17.

The series will highlight a variety of topics, including the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Territorial Prison, railroads, and more.


Aerial view showing the Wyoming Territorial Prison (center) and surrounding area, undated photo. Ludwig-Svenson Collection, UW American Heritage Center.

New material will be on display beginning every Monday throughout the summer.

Exhibits can be found in the AHC’s Reading Room (4th floor of the Centennial Complex), which is located on the northeast side of the UW campus (2111 Willet). Reading Room hours are Monday 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM and Tuesday through Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Visit next week to see materials about railroads in Laramie!


Construction of the Union Pacific’s Laramie Railroad Depot in 1924 to replace the depot that was destroyed by fire in 1917. Ludwig-Svenson Collection, UW American Heritage Center.

The AHC thanks Reference Department assistant Katey Parris for her work in creating this series.

For more details about Laramie’s 150th anniversary celebration, see The date of Laramie’s 150th anniversary is May 4, but celebrations are planned all summer and into the fall.

Posted in announcements, Current events, events, found in the archive, Local history, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Author’s Talk at UW’s Coe Library – “Snow Chi Minh Trail” by AHC Archivist John Waggener

On April 26th at 4 PM, come hear author and UW Archivist John Waggener talk about his new book, The Snow Chi Minh Trail: The History of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Walcott Junction.  The talk is in the McMurry Reading Room in Coe Library.  Books will be available for sale. Please RSVP to 307-766-3279.

During the Vietnam War, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was cut through the perilous mountain terrain by North Vietnamese to run supplies, ammunition and soldiers to reach South Vietnam. Similarly, a stretch of highway along the Interstate 80 corridor was constructed in rugged mountainous areas, which has not been popular over the years, especially during brutal Wyoming winters.

Waggener’s book title comes from long-haul truckers who dubbed that 77-mile stretch the “Snow Chi Minh Trail,” a negative reference to the similarly mountainous roadway used by North Vietnamese soldiers.

“Those truckers saw a lot of action and relived some of it as they drove across I-80,” Waggener says. “Not many stretches of highway across America have generated so much interest to fill the pages of a book, but Interstate 80 between Laramie and Rawlins is one of those exceptions.”


In the early years along the Snow Chi Minh Trail, bulldozers were needed to clear drifts like this one. Source: Ronald Tabler Papers, UW American Heritage Center.

That stretch of road in south-central Wyoming is steeped in tragedy, controversy, myth and even conspiracy, Waggener explains in his book.

The newly constructed stretch of I-80 was dedicated Oct. 3, 1970, but residents had warned highway officials of the adverse weather conditions around the Elk Mountain area and advised them not to build a road in that location. Wyomingites who knew their history reminded highway officials that the Union Pacific Railroad looked at that same area 100 years earlier when planning and constructing the nation’s first transcontinental railroad and decided against the shorter, more direct route.

But, just four days after the highway was dedicated, a winter storm wreaked havoc on motorists traveling on the new highway, which Wyomingites referred to as a “monument to human error,” Waggener says.

He says his family made many trips down I-80 and is familiar with the terrain.

“Our road trips were full of sightseeing, explanations and interpretations of the natural, cultural and historical wonders found along the way,” Waggener says.

One of his more vivid memories comes from an introduction to the “Snow Chi Minh Trail” in 1972 when his parents took him to the Oct. 7 Wyoming Cowboys football game. He still has the ticket stub.

“The road conditions that day were favorable, but I will always remember the near whiteout conditions my dad got us safely through on several other occasions,” he adds.

Waggener started working on the book project in 2004 and says, “It is pretty emotional to finally see it published.”

Waggener is a fifth-generation Wyomingite, born and raised in the Interstate 80 town of Green River. He attended UW, where he earned his undergraduate degree in education and geography, and his graduate degree in geography. He has been a faculty archivist at the American Heritage Center since 2001, where he enjoys preserving historical Wyoming documents and making them available to researchers.

Figure A

John Waggener “testing” the rails of a snow fence along I-80, 2008


Posted in announcements, Politics, Transportation history, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Not sure what to do with those papers, photos and digital files?

It’s Preservation Week, folks. So, even more than ever, the AHC is celebrating our favorite thing in the world – archives, of course.

Preservation Week is from April 22 to 28 and promotes the role of archives, libraries and other institutions in preserving personal and public collections and treasures.

So, you may be wondering how to preserve your own treasures. We may not have an app for that, but, being document-oriented, we have documents for that.

Check out these links for instructions on
Posted in announcements, Preservation Week, resources, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment