Lusk's Oldest Building, the Iron-Clad Store
By Pat Brewster
PONDER RESTORATION OF LUSK'S OLDEST BUILDING, THE IRON-CLAD
How to preserve Lusk’s oldest building has become a vexatious situation to the Niobrara County Historical society and especially to Mrs. Bill (Annabelle) Hoblit, president, who lives in fear something will happen to it before the society can raise the funds and finalize the necessary arrangements.
The “Big Iron-clad Store” which housed among other businesses, the Lusk Free Lance newspaper and later a thrift shop was given to the society shortly after it organized in 1969 by Dale Fullerton, associated with Ranchway Feeds. Mrs. Hoblit, realizing the historical value of the building, began planning for its restoration long before that, and says, “Each time we think we have all the details worked out we run into another snag—the latest being the Lusk Zoning Ordinance. We do not anticipate the ordinance will restrict moving the building, but are at this point waiting for written consent from the city.”
The society’s first idea was to have only the front of the building dismantled and moved to behind the Stagecoach Museum using poles to secure it upright. Then the idea was born through wishful thinking—it would be nice to build a build a building to attach it to—and from this came still another and final plan. That is to move 20 feet of the original building along with the front and restore it to its original purpose as an old-time store or equip it as a newspaper shop as it was in later years.
The building will be dismantled in pieces, and it is estimated it will cost $900 to build a foundation and reconstruct the building as it now stands. This cost, in addition to the cost of moving the structure, is more than the historical society can now afford, so plans are to move the building in pieces and store them on the museum grounds. Cliff Mangus has offered the use of his truck at no cost to the society for the actual moving, but there remains the expense of man power for dismantling and moving.
Gutting of the interior of the building was done by Earl Quigley last winter, and the old square nails which he removed were sold at the museum this summer as souvenirs. Mr. Quigley said, “It is a very well constructed building, and had the foundation (which has rotted away) been better built, the building would have stood for many years to come. “ Because of the galvanized metal used on the exterior of the original portion of the building it was known as the “Big Iron-clad Store” belonging to Ellis Johnson and housing Baker and Johnson—dealers in general merchandise, dry goods, clothing, hardware, groceries, flour, and feed. Advertisements in the early issues of The Herald (June 1886) carried the descriptive big iron-clad adjectives.
Studding in the old 25’ x 100’ building is all mitered, and durability of the original structure is evident in that it has outlasted at least two floors. Still intact, they were completely worn through. As the foundation began to wear away, trenches were dug underneath and braces of railroad ties used to secure the floors.
If the historical society moves the front portion of the building, it will likely not be the first time it was moved. Between August 20 and October 1, 1886, the store supposedly was moved from the site of Silver Cliff to its present location.
Assumption the building was moved comes from an old photograph believed to have been taken at the Silver Cliff site. When, and if, it was moved cannot be pinpointed by this reporter, and interpretation of early newspaper files should no doubt be left to the dexterous historian, but nevertheless are a guideline for the inquisitive.
References to the building made in 1886 issues of The Herald are:
August 6 – “Baker and Johnson, Jas. Hogle, William Crisswell, L.C. Hurling, Harris and Gustine and some others will move from the old town soon.”
September 17 – “Mr. Johnson of Baker and Johnson, is erecting a store 24 x 90, and also will build a warehouse, 20 x 60 feet. This will be the largest store in Lusk.”
October 1 – “Baker and Johnson’s iron store will be open next week.”
And then on October 29, 1886—“Baker and Johnson have completed their fine, iron-clad store, and have it packed with every class of general merchandise used by the ranchman. Their building is one of the most substantial in town. This firm is too well known by old-timers to need recommendation. Their success is assured.
How many businesses were housed in the “Big Iron-clad Store” I do not know, but according to information supplied by Mrs. Richard (Tutty) Collins it was owned by James E. Mayes in 1921. Tutty did her research and an article for the Casper Tribune in which she wrote: “The building remained a general store in Lusk well into the 20th Century. By 1921 it was owned by James E. Mayes (the mayor when Lusk was incorporated in 1918.) Mayes published the Van Tassell Booster for a number of years and in 1921 brought the Booster to Lusk and established the Lusk Free Lance newspaper in conjunction with the Booster. The Free Lance lived its entire life in the ironclad building.
“In 1930 Art Vogel purchased the newspaper from Mayes and published the Free Lance until his death in 1956. His widow, Ada Vogel, continued publication until 1957 when the Free Lance was sold to the Lusk Herald, the oldest continuing newspaper in Wyoming.
“The Ironclad building recently purchased by Ranchway Feeds from the heirs of Ione Mayes Shidler, has stood vacant for most of the past 14 years. For a short time it housed the thrift shop operated by the women of St. George’s Episcopal church, thus (in a second-hand sort of way) returning to its origin in “general” merchandise."
Images & Attachments
|Obituary||Quigley, Earl (04/18/1909 - 01/02/1989)||View Record||Obituary||Vogel, Ada (12/22/1917 - 03/11/1986)||View Record||Obituary||Johnson, Ellis (08/04/1845 - 02/14/1910)||View Record||Obituary||Fullerton, Dale (03/08/1930 - 09/18/2019)||View Record||Business||Baker & Johnson Merchandise||View Record||Business||Newspaper: The Lusk Free Lance||View Record|