Surrounded by the gently rolling plains of southeastern Wyoming, the old railroad town of Laramie has attracted all kinds of visitors. Butch Cassidy spent some time in the city's territorial prison after it opened in 1872; students began arriving in 1887 when the University of Wyoming opened. Today, with its thriving historic downtown and several good museums, bustling Laramie is more than a gas stop off Interstate 80―it's a place to linger.
A new show at the University of Wyoming Art Museum makes this spring and summer an especially good time to visit. Innovation and Renovation: The Evolving Architectural Landscape of Laramie, which runs through September 6, showcases more than 130 years of change as expressed in brick, stone, and steel. Detailed building plans, evocative photographs, and architectural artifacts all reveal the city's past. Remarkably, most buildings featured in the show are still standing.
The museum is located in the university's Centennial Complex, opened in 1993 to celebrate the school's 100th anniversary. Another campus landmark is the French château-style Old Main, the original university building.
Much of downtown Laramie has been preserved, and it reflects the West's late-19th-century quest for respectability on the rugged frontier. Now a historic district, downtown boasts blocks of two- and three-story commercial buildings with elaborate cornices. The area is edged by modest homes and magnificent mansions.
The Ivinson Mansion, a grandiose 16-room Queen Anne, was built in 1892 for Edward Ivinson, a prominent banker. Still an opulent showplace, it now houses the Laramie Plains Museum and is furnished with period antiques. Down the street is the 1896 St. Matthew's Episcopal Cathedral, an English Gothic-style church with stained-glass windows.
Just west of downtown is Wyoming Territorial Park, site of the territorial prison. Even on a warm spring day, it isn't hard to imagine life in the cold, drafty cells. Wandering the stark grounds today, it's interesting to contemplate how much ― and, in a good way, how little ― Laramie has changed.
Exploring historic Laramie
Laramie is on I-80, about 125 miles north of Denver; downtown has a good selection of restaurants for lunch and dinner. For visitor information, contact the Albany County Tourism Board (www.laramie-tourism.org, 800/445-5303, or 307/745-4195).
Laramie Plains Museum at the Ivinson Mansion. 10-2 Tue-Sat; $4.25. 603 Ivinson Ave.; www.laramiemuseum.org or (307) 742-4448.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Cathedral. 8-7 daily. 104 S. Fourth St.; (307) 742-6608.
University of Wyoming Art Museum. Check on special lecture programs and walking tours that start April 10 with "Cowboy Moderne and Other Local Variations on National Styles." 10-5 Mon-Sat (also 1-5 Sun, Memorial Day-Labor Day); free. 2111 Willett Dr.; www.uwyo.edu/artmuseum or (307) 766-6622.
Wyoming Territorial Park. 9-6 daily, May-Sep; $12, ages 12 and under free. 975 Snowy Range Rd.; www.wyoprisonpark.org, (800) 845-2287, or (307) 745-6161.