Curious about local history? Laramie and the surrounding area are full of fascinating landmarks, historic sites, and museums. The Top 10 most fascinating historic sites are ranked according to their historical significance and content. Each is remarkable in its own right and well worth a visit. As a bonus, nearly all of these sites and museums are free of charge! These are the Top 10 Best Museums and Historic Sites to visit in the Laramie Area.
10. The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument at the Sherman Summit Rest Area
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument, located on Interstate 80 just east of Laramie, was erected in honor of President Lincoln’s 150th birthday. Originally it marked the highest point on the Lincoln Highway but now resides at the Sherman Summit Rest Area at exit 323. The bronze sculpture depicts a serious-faced Lincoln and sits atop a pedestal of concrete and clay.
Visitors to the memorial may also want to retrace the path of the old Lincoln Highway by taking the self-driving Lincoln Highway Tour. In 1913, the Lincoln Highway was the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway. It originally connected Times Square, New York to Lincoln Park, San Francisco. It encompasses parts of the Overland Trail and Pony Express routes.
9. Ames Monument
A stop on the Lincoln Highway Tour, the Ames Monument is a mysterious stone pyramid built to honor the Ames Brothers. Oliver and Oakes Ames were instrumental in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Ames Monument stands at Sherman Summit (8,247 feet), which was once the highest point of the first Transcontinental Railroad. It was also home to the town of Sherman, a railroad town that has since gone the way of other western ghost towns after the railroad relocated the tracks further south.
8. St. Matthew’s Cathedral
St. Matthew's Cathedral (photo credit Leah Veinbergs)
With its beautiful sandstone exterior, striking red doors, and soaring spire, St. Matthew’s Cathedral is a phenomenal piece of architecture. The building is constructed of sandstone quarried 9 miles north of Laramie (the same is used throughout the University of Wyoming campus). The bell tower spire topped with a cross 118 feet from the ground (and 7,276 feet above sea level), makes it the highest cathedral in the country. The cathedral was completed in 1896. Additional towers were added in 1916 by Edward Ivinson in memory of his wife, Jane, who was a founding member of the parish. Read more about St. Matthew’s Cathedral here.
7. Historic Downtown Laramie
Laramie itself is a historical showcase. Founded in 1868, Laramie was an important stop on the Union Pacific Railroad. Much has changed since then, but the spirit of the wild west remains. Also, many of the original buildings and other examples of historic architecture can still be seen in the quaint downtown. The Historic Downtown Walking Tour is a wonderful way to get a feel for western history, admire the unique turn-of-the-century architecture, and appreciate all that modern Laramie has to offer.
6. The Wyoming Women’s History House
An exhibit on women's suffrage at the Wyoming Women's History House (photo credit Leah Veinbergs)
Conveniently located in downtown Laramie, The Wyoming Women’s History House is a free museum dedicated to the extraordinary history and achievements of women in Wyoming. Wyoming’s nickname is “the Equality State” because it was the first state to allow women the right to vote. In 1870, Louisa Swain became the first woman in the world to vote in a general election. The collection at The Wyoming Women’s History House honors the unparalleled lives of Louisa Swain and many other Wyoming women.
5. The Historic Laramie Union Pacific Train Depot
Laramie is, at its core, a railroad town. Therefore a visit to the Historic Laramie Union Pacific Train Depot is a must. The railroad first arrived in what was then “Laramie City” in 1868. Sadly, the original train depot burned down in 1917. The current depot was built in 1924 and operated as the Union Pacific depot until 1971 and an Amtrak depot until 1983. The museum is the only remaining building from the Union Pacific Railroad and houses an interesting range of Union Pacific memorabilia and railroad tools. Free guided tours are available 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.
4. Nici Self Museum
Centennial, Wyoming, only a short 30-minute drive from Laramie also has a fascinating history. The breathtaking Centennial Valley, nestled at the foot of the beautiful Snowy Range Mountains is rich with the history of ranching, mining, the railroad, and the timber industry. This history is wonderfully preserved at the Nici Self Museum. The museum, named in honor of Berniece “Nici” Self, has a unique collection of historical buildings, including the 1907 Centennial Railroad Depot, artifacts, and photographs. The museum's exhibits reflect the various aspects of history and life in the Centennial Valley.
3. The Laramie Plains Museum at the Ivinson Mansion
Christmas decorations in the library of the Ivinsion Mansion (photo credit Leah Veinbergs)
Nearing the top spot on the list is The Laramie Plains Museum. This amazing museum is housed in the stunning Ivinson Mansion and is only in 3rd place because it lacks the sheer size of #2 and #1. It is truly not to be missed! The Ivinson Mansion was built by Edward Ivinson between 1892 and 1893. Edward Ivinson, a local legend, settled in Laramie City in 1868. He and his wife, Jane, had a dry goods store, a bank, and eventually a ranch. The Ivinsons are remembered for their philanthropy and civic contributions to early Laramie.
The fully restored mansion has three floors of beautifully decorated, turn-of-the-century rooms. In addition to the history of the house itself, the museum also houses an extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs representing local and state history. This museum does have a small fee but is well worth the personalized tours.
2. The Wyoming Territorial Prison
No tour of Laramie historical sites would be complete without a visit to the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site. The Prison was originally built in 1872 to house the Wyoming Territory’s growing population of outlaws. Many notorious bank robbers, cattle rustlers, and murderers served time in the prison, including the infamous Butch Cassidy. The prison served as a federal prison until 1890. After Wyoming became a state it was the Wyoming State Penitentiary until it closed in 1903.
Today, the prison is a museum and a real remnant of the wild west. Guests can tour the cells, visit the various outbuildings and other exhibits, and read the convict’s stories. The museum also frequently hosts family-friendly activities, special exhibits, and holiday displays. This museum does have a small fee.
1. The University of Wyoming
An exhibit at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum (photo credit Leah Veinbergs)
Finally, number one is The University of Wyoming and its amazing campus. The University of Wyoming is arguably the most fascinating historical site to visit because, in addition to the history of the university itself, it also houses several museums of historical (and modern significance).
The University of Wyoming was first established in 1886 as a “land grant university.” It officially opened its doors in 1887 and is still the only four-year university in Wyoming. The original “Old Main” building is still in use and the subsequent buildings built to house the growing student body bear the characteristic native sandstone that ties the beautiful architecture together. The Historic Campus Walking Tour Brochure is available for those who would like to learn more about the history and architecture of UW.
The University of Wyoming houses several campus museums. The American Heritage Center is a repository and archive of manuscripts, photographs, artifacts, and rare books. The University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum focuses on the history (or rather prehistory)of the “Human Odyssey,” with displays of early hunter-gatherers from Africa to the arrival of Native Americans in the Americas. The University of Wyoming Geological Museum, a favorite for kids, goes beyond human history and delves into the natural history of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, as well as the geology of Wyoming. Additionally, UW is also home to the University of Wyoming Art Museum, the University of Wyoming Insect Gallery, and the Harry C. Vaughan Planetarium.
Laramie is, without a doubt, a treasure trove of western historical sites and museums. There is something for every age and interest to explore. Make sure to take advantage of these wonderful museums and all that they have to offer.