We discovered Encampment, Wyo., years ago when a friend told us about Snowy Range Road, Hwy 130 west of Laramie, being a beautiful drive. Snow usually closes the road from the end of October until May. Highway 287 from Fort Collins, Colo. to Laramie is a drive that winds through colorful hills and grasslands where we often see lots of antelope. This trip is one we take at least once a year and where out of town guests are treated to its beauty.
The friendly residents of the tiny town of Encampment love living there, far from things that city folk find important. They enjoy being minutes from streams, mountains and recreation that is right in their back yard. They pitch in to help make the museum and special events draw attendees not only from the United States, but Wales, Holland, England, France, New Zealand, Africa, Italy, Monaco and South America. There are places to stay here or in nearby Laramie.
In 1897 a rich copper strike in the Sierra Madres brought men to build a smelter and the city of Grand Encampment. In 1903,the oar was sent from the mine to the smelter via a 16 mile aerial tramway.
In 1908 the company which had produced 2 million dollars in copper ore, was indicted for overcapitalization and fraudulent stock sales. The mines closed and six nearby towns became ghost towns. Only Encampment and Riverside survived. The front page of the August 24, 1916 Encampment Record has a photo of the third annual fish fry; proof that the residents had a strong sense of community as they do now.
In 1973 the Boston-Wyoming Smelter and the Ferris-Haggarty Copper Mine were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Those two sites along with the museum preserve and represent the most historical features of the Grand Encampment copper mining era.
The idea for this gem of a museum germinated in the minds of people in the 1960s. They incorporated it in 1965 and laid the cornerstone for the Doc Cullerton Memorial building in 1966. Seventeen buildings have been donated and moved to the site and set upon concrete foundations. Grants have been acquired for rejuvenating them. There are grants to pay high school kids who enthusiastically help visitors experience pioneer living through the telling of the stories of the buildings, including the two story outhouse. The community has been involved in the research of the buildings and the thousands of donated items in the museum.
It is open from Memorial weekend to Columbus day weekend; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is no charge for admissions, but donations are gladly accepted. It is funded by grant writing, fund raisers and sizeable donations from the Gates family.
Executive Director Shannon Fagan has been writing grants, bringing traveling exhibits, free programs from the University of Wyoming archives American Heritage Center. She has had 17,000 photo negatives and 3,000 glass plates scanned into a touch screen photo kiosk that is open to the public. This young woman oversees the special events and finds time to bake good cookies that endear her to the volunteers.
Assistant Director Cowboy Wadsworth is a world traveler who brings his many talents and loves his work. When he lead us on a tour of the buildings, his knowledge and enthusiasm made us know we were in the audience of a pro. In 2012, January through April 23, he and Jerry Anderson remodeled the museum building, making it handicapped accessible. They are also covering the bricks on the outside with logs to make it fit the era of the other buildings.
There is no place in town to buy lunch, so we pack a picnic to eat at the covered area with tables in the park. The park at the corner of 6th street and Barnett Avenue has restrooms and new playground equipment. There is a cannon and a memorial with the names of those from the town who have served their country. Just past the park on 6th Street is a Japanese garden with benches where you can relax while enjoying the beauty.
Whichever road you take to get there, it will be an experience you’ll love. ❖