On April 28, 2012, Wyoming Territorial Park State Historic Site (WTPSHS) in Laramie, Wyo., celebrated the grand opening of the new exhibit, “Science on the Range,” focusing on the period when Wyoming Territorial Prison facilities were turned over to the University of Wyoming (UW) for use as an Agricultural Experiment Station. It was as an Experiment Station that the abandoned prison had its most use (from 1903-1989) using science to improve farming and ranching in Wyoming and around the world.
The WTPSHS staff have done extensive research for several years in preparation for the new permanent exhibit, but it is fitting that the exhibit opened in 2012 on the 150th anniversary of the enactment of the Morrill Act of 1862, and the 125th anniversary of the Hatch Act of 1887 that supplemented the earlier Morrill Act.
The Morrill Act of 1862 granted land to states to be sold or developed to raise funds to establish and endow “land-grant”colleges with a mission to focus on practical agriculture, science and engineering, though not excluding classical studies. The first settlers across the nation had learned they had to adapt or starve due to the great variation of soils, climates, and suitable crops, so there was a strong desire to apply science for the improvement of agriculture.
The mission of the land-grant colleges was expanded by the Hatch Act of 1887 granting additional federal funds establishing agricultural experiment stations in association with colleges established under the Morrill Act. Each land grant college was initially given $15,000 annually to support its experiment station.
The University of Wyoming was founded in March 1886, four years before the territory was admitted as the 44th state, and opened in September 1887. The Hatch Act funds provided the perfect opportunity to expand its research and experimental facilities which at the time included a five-room cottage, a tool shed, and an animal shed.
In 1903, after the Wyoming Territorial Prison was abandoned and remaining prisoners moved to the new Frontier Prison in Rawlins, UW acquired the prison property and the structures which included the prison building, blacksmith shop, warden’s house, broom factory, and a handful of animal outbuildings. Existing prison buildings were repurposed for livestock and scientific studies.
The cells, kitchen, and other features of the prison were removed, and the building was converted into a dairy barn and milk research laboratory. The broom factory was adapted and expanded to accommodate what would become an internationally recognized sheep breeding program. The Horse Barn was constructed in 1910 to stable UW Percheron horses used for field work as well as research and college activities, such as parades.
Researchers made significant contributions that focused on livestock genetics and reproduction, nutrition, altitude and environmental issues and productivity. Crop and soil research focused on developing solutions for profitable and sustainable agricultural practices for the high altitude, poor soils, and arid climate.
The Quality of UW’s livestock breeding programs gained international recognition and livestock were shipped throughout the United States and overseas. Breeding programs included beef, dairy, sheep, hogs, horses and poultry. Although the Government Remount Program dwindled because the Military became mechanized, UW horse breeding herds focused on popular, mild-mannered Percheron draft horses.
By 1910, the Station possessed one of the best and most extensive collection of sheep breeds in the United States. The station maintained these flocks for its research on genetics and wool production. Decades of research were focused on developing a breed of sheep that was hardy and had excellent wool and good mutton.
UW’s Teaching and Research Department had also partnered with premier wool experts from Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia on sheep breeding projects. They helped create sheep husbandry programs in other countries and shipped sheep overseas to improve their flocks.
After extensive research for designing the new exhibit the museum staff concluded that since the Sheep and Wool Industry played such an important part in Wyoming history a separate Exhibit should be developed to compliment the “Science on the Range” exhibit. However, the present exhibit features a strong focus on popular Percheron horses that were bred and kept on site.
Misty Stoll, Site Curator says, “This exhibit gives attention to a portion of the Wyoming Territorial Prison’s site history that truly made a difference in the state and ensures that the history of the prison after it housed criminals is not forgotten. The sheer volume of research and breeding project that were overseen here is astonishing — and their results impacted every single person that might come through the exhibit.”
Stoll also stated, “The naming process for the UW College of Agriculture Experiment Station Exhibit was agonizing because it needed to reflect the scientific nature of the activities to show the station was more than just a stock farm. The title “Science on the Range” conveys the importance and impact of cutting-edge, scientific research that resulted in greater economic returns and quality of life for Wyoming citizens.
By wandering into the 1910 Horse Barn, as well as the historic Boxcar House, visitors can delve into farming and ranching experiments conducted on the old prison grounds by UW students and staff. The unique history is shown through historic photographs, artifacts, and interactive displays. Much of the changes we experience in our daily lives is the result of research pursued for months, years, and decades.
Deborah Amend, Site Superintendent says, “This exhibit also reveals the story of the research community that lived, studied and worked here at the Experiment Station for 86 years.”
It took a lot of work to operate the station. Livestock needed care and feeding, and experimental crops required planting and harvesting. The station provided essential hands-on learning experience for students toward their degree in agronomy and farm economy or veterinary science. Prison buildings were adapted to accommodate students, faculty, herdsmen and their families who lived here and functioned as a separate community.
While touring the new “Science on the Range” exhibit visitors should also check out the other highlights at WTPSHS including the restored Territorial Prison, Broom Factory (Prison Industries Building), Warden’s House, relocated historic Church and schoolhouse, plus the Homestead Ranch Buildings.
For more information about the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site call (307) 745-6161 or access the web site at: www.WyomingTerritorialPrison.com. The site is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through October 31, 2012. Admission: Adults - $5; Youth (12-17) - $2.50; Ages 11 and under Free. ❖