One Town's Life, Part 3

Last updated: May 8, 2018

The Lusk Herald
October 8, 1970

Last in Series

Ohio Oil Company’s successful strike brought others of the larger companies to the area: this, exploration was widened and production increased. In due time, a pipeline was laid from the field to the railroad, terminating at the site of the before mentioned Runningwater Stage Station.

A few new commercial enterprises were established by investors from out of town, but none of particular note. Lumbermen were eager to come in. The Morison Company of Crawford, Neb., started building a yard on First Street, but got “cold feet” before its plant was finished, and it sold out to local people. A Glenrock firm located a small beginning north of the railroad, but it moved out when the “storm clouds” began to gather. This writer operated a modest lumber business in Lusk the most of 15 years, located, when sold to a Denver firm, at Second and Elm Streets-recently acquired by Frontier Lumber Company.

Local owners began subdividing their adjacent lands, among which were the Mayes. Tom Bell, Wucherer and Runningwater Additions. Outside capital promoted the Capitol Hill Addition. The optimistic spirit of expansion which prevailed appears to have been manifested to far the greater degree by our own people. They transformed the character of Main Street, especially between Second and Third Streets. The old wooden buildings were pulled out into the street, disposed of, and replaced by two-story brick structures. The Snyder Mercantile Company built a commercial complex at Third and Main and moved into it, leaving their location at Second and Main which had been the site of the leading mercantile establishment since the founding of the town.

The penchant for expansion even struck the churches; especially did the Congregational people succumb to the urge. I believe that it was in the year 1888 when this denomination built the first church in Lusk, which was still serving as their house of worship in this period. It became known that a former pastor of the Lusk church, Richard Shoemaker, was available for a call. He had been serving a church in Montrose, Colo., and had heard of the stirrings at Lusk. The call was extended, and brought with him plans and specifications for a new church building that had been rejected in Montrose. They were quite elaborate and extensive, but with Lusk’s new found prosperity and outlook for continued growth, it was thought that a new church built from those plans was feasible. A Mr. D. C. Leach had offered $11,000 for the old church property. A meeting of the congregation was called to discuss and decide the matter. The sentiment to sell was almost unanimous. The old church became the post office for a time and was later purchased by the Baptist people. The Reverend Shoemaker conducted church services in the corridor of the school house. A campaign for raising funds for a new church was under way. At the morning services, the pastor would have a blackboard on which he indicated the pledges received, mostly shares of local oil stocks. A site was purchased, but it was found that the cost of excavating the basement would be prohibitive because the area was under laid with solid rock. In the interest of economy, another site was purchased- the one where stands the imposing Congregational Church of today. However, it was several years before that attainment was realized. The Shoemaker project ran afoul of the worsening times, and it never got off the ground.

Topping all the manifestations indicating an optimistic faith in a solid future was the concept of what in after years came to be the Ranger Hotel. (If it may seem to the reader of this narrative the first person, singular number, is used more than appropriate, it is because of the writer’s participation in some of the events.)

One day in January, 1919, I was home for a day from the Legislature, which was in recess, to check some business matters. A friend and former business associate came to me and announced a plan he and others had agreed upon for financing a $100,000 hotel, something the city much needed. Ten persons would subscribe $10,000 each. The owner of the site selected for the hotel would move the existing house elsewhere, and the lots would be equivalent of her $10,000 contribution. The group wanted me to come in with them. I thought a moment, then said to my friend, John Agnew, “All right, John, I’ll go along with you.”

On the train back to Cheyenne, I thought of my impudence and decided I would withdraw my assent when my friend would be in Cheyenne a few days later. However, my withdrawal was not accepted at once. Back home after the session, I said to my friend, “John, I still feel about the hotel matter as I explained to you in Cheyenne.” We compromised on $5000. No commitments had yet been made other than verbal understandings.

Alex Beck & Son, architects and builders of Omaha, drew the plans and specifications; a meeting of the contributors at the Silvercliff {sic} Hotel approved then without knowing what the cost would be. However, before any commitments were made, we had an estimate of $185,000. To this sum must be added the cost of furnishing the hotel. The estimate was far in excess of the $100,000 provided for in the original scheme, but the sentiment was to go ahead and build it, that money was so plentiful it would easily be obtained. Alex Beck & Son took the job under special agreement started assembling materials, and actual construction then began. It was my job to collect the subscriptions and to pay the money to the contractor from time to time as he might need it to pay for labor and materials. When the $100,000 was approaching exhaustion, an effort was made to interest others and sell more stock. The results were meager. The envisioned “easy” money seemed very reluctant to leave those who had it.

The hotel walls were up, with the openings unfilled; the roof was on and heating equipment on the ground when the work had to cease for want of funds. Always there has to be a leader-a spokesman for any group undertaking, on whom more responsibility seems to rest than anyone else. Thus it was with my friend in this enterprise. He made heroic efforts to bail this thing out, but in vain. The boom had reached its crest and had begun to subside. The walls of a magnificent effort stood there for many years, a gaunt specter of a delightful vision. It was not only that ten persons or so had lost among them more than $100,000, but also Lusk was deprived of a fine civic improvement.

In the offing were further hardship and disaster, not alone from the collapse of the boom, but also from the long post-war depression that enveloped the nation and the world in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. The Bank of Lusk, Lusk’s oldest, failed in January 1921, followed before long by the First National and lately, the Wyoming State Bank. These are grave happenings in a community, with the tragic losses it sustains. Lusk was without a bank for several years. The Snyder Mercantile Company, after a few years in its new and impressive quarters, liquidated its business and ceased to exist.

The time came when the economic skies began to brighten faintly. Time is always a healer but can be painfully slow. Mr. C.W. Irwin (from Casper, I believe) established the Lusk State Bank in the building where the old Bank of Lusk folded. To have banking facilities again would be a stimulant to recovery. Mr. Hendrie, of the Hendrie & Bolthoff Company of Denver, bought the unfinished structure of the ill-fated hotel for delinquent taxes amounting to about $1400. He completed and furnished the first floor, and the Ranger Hotel was at last open for guests. Erelong, more rooms were needed. The second floor was completed and furnished. About this time, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Chamberlain acquired ownership. During the period of their management, they finished the remaining floors, making the structure complete—a hotel that was outstanding for its appointments and comforts. It soon became very popular with the traveling public, rated as the finest of its kind in eastern Wyoming.

It is some 35 years, or more, since the happening of the most recent events recorded in this narrative. In the meantime, the scars inflicted by the collapse of the boom have disappeared. Lusk has attained a sound economic status and it is one of Wyoming’s attractive cities. Its abundant trees beautify its streets and glorify its homes. For fifteen years it was the home of myself and family. I cherish its memory and the friendships that were my good fortune to possess.

The End








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