Wyoming History, Museums and Sites of interest: The history of Laramie is an extraordinary blend of the wild west, the progress of the railroad, and the legacy of women’s suffrage. Laramie history comes alive through the many museums, tours, and historical sites in the area. With prehistoric fossils, turn-of-the-century buildings and artifacts, railroad memorabilia, and world-renowned research libraries, Laramie has something to interest everyone from curious kids to serious researchers.
History of the Laramie, Wyoming Area
The Union Pacific Railroad reached the area that is today Laramie in 1868. It soon became known as a true “end of the tracks” wild west town. The early days of Laramie were highly colorful times of lawlessness and gunslingers. Despite the wildness of Laramie’s early days, the residents quickly worked to establish law and order. However, the unquenchable independent spirit of the west is evident throughout Laramie's history. The following museums focus on the specific history of the Laramie area:
Exhibit at the Historic Laramie Railroad Depot (photo courtesy of the Historic Laramie Railroad Depot)
Historic Laramie Union Pacific Train Depot
Certainly, visiting the Historic Laramie Union Pacific Train Depot is a must for train enthusiasts. The railroad first arrived in what was then the newly created town of “Laramie City.” The original depot burned down in 1917, and the current depot was built in 1924. The museum houses an interesting range of Union Pacific memorabilia and railroad tools. Free tours are available on Mondays from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., or by appointment. Additionally, the Depot periodically hosts open houses, model train exhibits, and other public events. More information can be found on the Depot’s website and Facebook page.
Laramie Plains Museum
Exhibit at the Laramie Plains Museum (photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum)
Another wonderful example of Laramie's history is the Laramie Plains Museum. The museum is located in the historic Ivinson Mansion and is a treasure trove of local and state history. Edward Ivinson settled in Laramie City in 1868. He and his wife, Jane, had a dry goods store, a bank, and later a ranch. Today, the local hospital, an important street, and other philanthropic endeavors still reflect the Ivinson name and influence.
The Ivinson Mansion, built in 1892-1893, is truly a magnificent building. The mansion has three floors of beautifully restored, turn-of-the-century rooms. Each room features period furnishings and stunning craftsmanship. The mansion also houses an extensive museum collection of artifacts and photographs related to Wyoming's history. More details about the mansion and upcoming events can be found on the museum webpage and Facebook page.
Historic Downtown Laramie Walking Tour
Elmer Lovejoy's Garage and Service Station in historic downtown Laramie
When the weather is nice, there is no better way to get a feel for the bygone days of Laramie than a Historic Downtown Laramie Tour. While there have obviously been modern changes, downtown Laramie still possesses its original frontier charm. Traverse downtown Laramie and view the beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture. Read about some of the triumphs and tragedies of Laramie’s past and get a true picture of Laramie's history. The historic buildings are now occupied by wonderful bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, and taverns. The tour provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy some refreshments and shopping along the way.
Nici Self Museum
Besides Laramie itself, the surrounding area also has a fascinating history. The Nici Self Museum, named for Berniece “Nici” Self, is located about 30 miles west of Laramie in Centennial. The museum is open regularly from Memorial Day to Labor Day and has a unique collection of historical buildings, including the 1907 Centennial Railroad Depot, artifacts, and photographs. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the Centennial Valley and focuses on the history of ranching, mining, railroading, and the lumber industry in the area. For more information please see the museum webpage and Facebook page.
History of Wyoming and More
Laramie’s historical wealth is not confined to local history. There are several museums and tours dedicated to preserving the history of the Wyoming Territory, State of Wyoming, and even American history in general.
Lincoln Highway Tour
Historic Laramie Motorist on the Lincoln Highway
The Lincoln Highway Tour is a unique driving tour of Laramie and the surrounding area. The Lincoln Highway, established in 1913, was America’s first coast-to-coast highway. It originally ran from Times Square, New York to Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Parts of this highway followed the old Overland Trail and Pony Express routes. Download the free brochure here and embark on a scenic and historic tour that will take you to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument at the Summit Rest Area, the Ames Monument, the remains of the old Fort Sanders guardhouse, and more.
The Wyoming House for Historic Women
The Wyoming House for Historic Women contains displays on 13 historic women in Wyoming. It is managed by the Louisa Swain Foundation. The foundation was formed in honor of Louisa Swain, the first woman in the U.S. to vote in a general election. It works to promote education, democracy, freedom, and justice, and to preserve the historical record of Louisa Swain and other women like her. The museum is open regularly during the summer.
Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site.
Wyoming Territorial Prison Historic Site
For a true taste of the wild west, visit the Wyoming Territorial Prison. The prison, built in 1872, was a federal prison until 1890. From 1890 until 1903, it served as Wyoming’s State Penitentiary. The infamous outlaw, Butch Cassidy, was even incarcerated here.
Today, the prison is a museum. You can tour the cells, visit the various outbuildings and other exhibits, and read the convict’s stories. Additionally, the museum frequently hosts special educational events for kids and families. See the museum webpage or Facebook page for more information.
University of Wyoming
In addition to the other sites in town, the University of Wyoming campus offers several museums and is a historical gem in its own right. The University of Wyoming was first established in 1886 and opened its doors in 1887. The first building on campus, “Old Main”, is still in use today. Most buildings on the west side of campus surround “Prexy’s Pasture” and have a harmonious design incorporating native sandstone. The campus has beautiful architecture reflecting the history of the 1880s through modern times. For more information on the history and architecture and to tour campus, see our Historic Campus Walking Tour Brochure. Additional campus video tours, maps, and parking information can be found here.
Historic "Old Main" (photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum)
Of course, a visit to the University of Wyoming campus is a day-trip in and of itself. Besides a walking tour, you can also enjoy lunch at the food court in the Union, pick up a souvenir at the University Store, take in a sporting event, enjoy performance art, or visit the on-campus museums. Besides the history-related museums discussed below, UW also has a terrific Art Museum and the Harry C. Vaughan Planetarium.
American Heritage Center
The American Heritage Center is UW’s archive, artifact, manuscript, and rare book repository. While the primary focus of the American Heritage Center is providing access to primary source materials for students and researchers, the AHC is open to the public and has several small exhibits on display. They also have an extensive digital collection and virtual exhibits on their webpage. Additionally, the Simpson Institute, located in the AHC, sponsors various lectures and symposia throughout the year. To read more, see our American Heritage Center blog post.
University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum
Another fascinating museum located on campus is the University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum. The museum consists of several exhibits throughout the Anthropology Building. The main gallery on the first floor follows the “Human Odyssey” of human evolution from Africa through the Native American migration to the New World. Various exhibits explore Wyoming archaeology sites, hunter-gatherer heritage, bison evolution, world cultures, and more. For more information, please see the museum webpage.
University of Wyoming Geological Museum
"Big Al" at UW Geological Museum (photo courtesy of University of Wyoming Geological Museum)
Finally, don't miss the University of Wyoming Geological Museum. While it is technically a museum about prehistory, rather than history, I just couldn’t leave it off the list. This hidden gem, located on the UW campus is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. From the stunning display of “Big Al,” the allosaurus, to the Augmented Reality Sandbox, to the wonderful fossil and mineral exhibits, this is a truly fascinating museum. For more information on exhibits, hours, and special events be sure to check out their webpage and Facebook page.
Obviously, Laramie's history is rich with diversity and significance. Laramie truly has an abundance of sites and organizations dedicated to preserving the past. With so much to do and see, visiting the Laramie area and exploring the various museums and historical sites is a perfect way to spend a day, weekend, or even longer.
You may also enjoy these posts: Top 5 Museums for Kids in Laramie, The Best Fun Free Things to Do in Laramie, Wyoming, and Best Places to Eat Lunch in Laramie.