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Fossil Cabin

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1932, Thomas Boylan. U.S. 30.
  • Side elevation

Thomas Boylan, builder and owner of the Fossil Cabin, variously advertised his creation as the “Como Bluff Dinosaurium,” “The Strangest Building in the World,” “The Creation Museum,” “The World’s Oldest Building,” and the “Building that Used to Walk.” For many years a roadside attraction on U.S. Route 30, the Fossil Cabin is a relic of the early numbered highway system and a casualty of the modern interstate, which diverted cross-country traffic to a more southerly route along I-80 in the late 1960s. It is located five miles southeast of the town of Medicine Bow, in close proximity to both Como Bluff, the site of several major dinosaur specimen discoveries during the late nineteenth century, and the second-generation (c. 1924) route of the Lincoln Highway, which became U.S. Route 30 in the late 1920s.

Constructed in 1932, the Fossil Cabin is a one-story, rectangular-shaped building measuring 28 by 18 feet. The walls are constructed primarily of dinosaur bones mined from nearby Como Bluff, one of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world, and a small amount of rock. A purported total of 5,796 bones are laid in random courses with wide mortar joints. A gable roof replaced the original flat roof in 1987, and the building has no visible foundation. It is believed to be the only building constructed of fossilized dinosaur bones in the United States. Also on site are a stone house (the former residence of Thomas and Grace Boylan), a chicken house, and a garage.

In 1908 Boylan filed on a homestead near Como Bluff. He collected dinosaur bones over a period of seventeen years, and when he decided to sell gas to cross-country motorists on the highway that had been constructed near his claim, his initial plan was to assemble a complete skeleton that would attract travelers to his pumps. After a dinosaur expert at the nearby University of Wyoming explained that his fossil collection did not contain a complete specimen, Boylan used the fossilized bone to construct the roadside attraction that stands today.

The Fossil Cabin was part of a growing national fascination with dinosaurs in the 1930s, evidenced also in Sinclair Oil Company’s decision to adopt a dinosaur as their logo in 1932 and in the Works Progress Administration’s Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota, a project completed in 1936. It is unclear if Boylan charged admission to the Fossil Cabin, which opened in time for the 1933 tourist season, but he sold candy and soft drinks as well as gas. Museum display cases in the Cabin contained fossils, Indian artifacts, and miscellaneous relics. As many as seven other gas stations are reported to have operated within the eighteen-mile stretch of highway between the towns of Rock River and Medicine Bow, so the Fossil Cabin was undoubtedly essential to Boylan’s ability to compete in a saturated market. Its popularity was such that the nationally syndicated cartoon strip Ripley’s Believe It or Not! featured the Fossil Cabin on April 26, 1938. Today, a sign reading “Believe it or Not” is still located in front of the building.

Boylan operated the Fossil Cabin Museum and gas station until his death in 1947. His widow, Grace, kept the business going until 1974. In 1970, I-80 was completed twenty miles south of U.S. Route 30, and traffic declined precipitously along the older cross-country route. Paul and Jodie Fultz purchased the property from Grace Boylan, and the Fultz family operated the Fossil Cabin Museum until 1992. The property has been vacant since that time.

References

Weidel, Nancy, “The Fossil Cabin,” Carbon County, Wyoming. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 2008. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Elizabeth C. King
Coordinator: 
Mary M. Humstone
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Data

Timeline

  • 1932

    Built

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Citation

Elizabeth C. King, "Fossil Cabin", [Medicine Bow, Wyoming], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WY-01-007-0054.

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