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Rock Springs Historical Museum
The Rock Springs City Hall was built in 1894, just a few years after the incorporation of the Town of Rock Springs (1888), and before the town was officially a “city.” The choice of name reflected the citizens’ desire for the fast-growing hub of the Union Pacific Coal Company to be perceived as a major western city.
In April 1893, the Rock Springs Town Council approved $25,000 for the building of a town hall, hose house, and jail, pending a vote of the people. On May 9th citizens of Rock Springs approved the purchase of a lot from the Union Pacific Railroad and erection of a municipal building. By this time the town had been booming for nearly twenty years, saloons, hotels, and other business occupied much of the prime real estate on both sides of the railroad tracks. As a result, the new multipurpose municipal building was built a few blocks southwest of the railroad depot and the center of downtown.
While the Union Pacific Coal Company treated Rock Springs as a company town, the citizens had other ideas. City leaders intended to continue the town long after the Union Pacific had exhausted its coal resources and moved elsewhere. Construction of a large and imposing city hall sent a strong message that Rock Springs would exist as an entity separate from the Union Pacific.
Architect Martin D. Kern of Salt Lake City, Utah, designed the building. He hired J.L Shedd of the Rock Springs Lumber Company to oversee the construction. For the stonemasonry work, he turned to Roy and Company, a firm that also worked on the Rock Springs’s Miners’ Hospital and the state penitentiary in Rawlins. Building commenced shortly after Kern’s appointment in April 1894, but it was delayed when quicksand was discovered on the site. After trenches were constructed to divert underground creeks, they built a substantial foundation consisting of two layers of 14-inch-thick concrete, each topped by large blocks of “red stone.” The visible sandstone foundation sits atop its subterranean concrete and red stone base.
The two-story, Richardsonian Romanesque Rock Springs City Hall was constructed primarily of light gray, rough-cut sandstone quarried a few miles outside the city. Although the exterior boasts no major decorative touches, its massive sandstone walls and octagonal corner tower topped with a cupola were clearly designed to impress. On each elevation, steeply gabled dormers intersect the building’s flat-topped, hipped roof. Originally constructed of slate, the roof is now covered with metal shingles designed to emulate slate. A small parapet follows the entire roofline and details such as a mansard-roofed rectangular cupola above the hose house add to the building’s complex silhouette.
The building is reminiscent of Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse (1888) in its massive stonework, intersecting gables, and rounded stone arches. The first story is pierced with a series of double-hung windows in pairs and triplets, with square transoms. Second-story windows are more elaborate, with round-arched and double rows of transoms. Roman-arched, multi-pane windows are featured on the front of each gable. “City Hall” and “Fire Station” are inscribed above their respective arched and recessed entryways. A small balcony above the City Hall entrance once provided a platform for Rock Springs’s mayors to address the public. The fire station facade features a large garage door and a one-and-a-half-story tower containing a staircase.
The northwest corner boasts the building’s most prominent feature, the 90-foot-high octagonal tower topped by a cupola. The tower changes from sandstone to pine when it passes the building’s roofline. This upper stage of the tower, conspicuously painted a light color, has louvers and clocks facing each of the four directions of the intersection of B Street and 4th Street (now Broadway). The clocks were never operational because neither their original glass covers nor the exposed hands could withstand the strong Wyoming wind. In 1950, a local store owner donated chimes as a substitute for the clocks. These can still be heard today.
The interior of the Rock Springs City Hall has extensive pine woodwork, shipped in on the railroad and used for a high wainscoting and heavy pine window and door frames. A pine staircase leads up to the main hall flanked by offices with large windows overlooking the hallway. The city jail, with several barred cells, was also accessible from the main floor. The hose house had a separate entrance and featured a stable for the horses (later converted to house trucks) and a hay loft. Although the sleeping quarters for the firemen were located above the hose house, as is common in many fire stations, this one never had a pole and firefighters had to descend the building’s unusually steep stairway instead.
The building functioned as city hall, city jail, and fire station until 1982 when a new city hall was built. In the late 1980s, a team of volunteers cleaned up the abandoned building for use as a museum. A few months before the scheduled opening, a huge hole from a collapsed abandoned mineshaft opened up in the street outside the building, causing cracks in the foundation and walls. The Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program of the Bureau of Land Management paid for backfilling the collapsed mine shaft and for stabilizing the building and restoring the exterior to its 1890s appearance. The building re-opened as the Rock Springs Historical Museum in 1992. It is open to the public with exhibits featuring the history of Rock Springs, with an emphasis on its coal mining and multi-national heritage.
Gilbert, Kathy. “A Building for the Town.” Green River Star, March 19, 1988.
Kane, James S., “Rock Springs City Hall,” Sweetwater County, Wyoming. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
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