An excursion to Centennial has long been an adventurous getaway from Laramie.
One of the first large excursions from Laramie to Centennial took place by train on July 4, 1907. The Laramie, Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railroad was celebrating the completion of their 30 mile route from Laramie to Centennial. Incorporated in February of 1901, the railroad began in July with roadbed grading. By December, 19 miles had been completed. But between 1901 and when it finally reached Centennial in 1907 there were multiple lengthy stalls, stops, and starts.
Centennial had received a post office in 1875. About 25 years later, Isaac Van Horn of Boston, and Fred Miller, both originally from Nebraska, began promoting a railroad and the Centennial community. Among other attractions, they promised a country club at the 320 acre town site. In 1907, they organized the opening excursion. Prior to that celebration, the first “official” train (but without paying customers), pulled into Centennial on June 17, 1907, with 60 passengers as guests of Van Horn and Miller.
The 1907 excursion to Centennial for the Fourth went perfectly, with three trains heading out, and two back, at staggered hours, with about 1,200 passengers. A golden spike was driven, and the celebration was declared a great success. Centennial had an open-air pavilion where the dance and picnic given by the Laramie Eagles Lodge was held that day.
Other excursions reported included a July 24, 1907 excursion of the Laramie women’s group, the “60 Club” and the 1908 outing of Laramie’s North Star Society and Danish Brotherhood, when 500 to 600 excursionists rode the train to a picnic in Centennial.
Centennial received national notoriety when a gold nugget from the Centennial Mine was displayed at the 1776-1876 Exposition in Philadelphia. Even before the railroad, the town was becoming a destination. People came for camping in the mountains, often led by Gustav Sundby of the Mountain View Hotel, and as automobile travel was established, car trips to Centennial and the Snowy Range became popular.
The golf course Van Horn and Miller promised never materialized and in 1913 Van Horn declared bankruptcy. Other tourist developments did come along. By 1925, Libby Lodge, now Snowy Range Lodge, opened as a resort. After restoration starting in 1974, it operates today as a venue for private events. In 1917, Medicine Bow Lodge opened as a hunting lodge; it is now a guest ranch. Other resorts, Brooklyn Lodge and Sand Lake Lodge, opened in 1924. The former still functions. In the 1920s the UW Summer Science Camp was built six miles above Centennial. Now it is the privately-owned Snowy Mountain Lodge.
Skiing excursions have been popular since the late 1930s. Downhill and cross country skiers are now joined by snowmobilers. Early on, Centennial boasted a hotel and a railroad depot. These buildings still function today. One is the Mountain View Hotel, and the depot serves as the main building of the Nici Self Historical Museum.
Though it never achieved the “Pacific” in its ambitious name, the railroad did reach Walden in 1911. Always a marginal proposition, it had at least five different owners over the years, including a tourist line from 1987 to 1996. Then, rail excursions to Centennial ended and the tracks were removed. But the US Forest Service has converted the portion of the roadbed that is within the National Forest into a trail, opening up further reasons for an excursion to Centennial.
The Nici Self Historical Museum in Centennial is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays from Memorial Day through Labor Day and Saturdays and Sundays in September.
By Cecily Goldie
Caption: Neva Nelson Ford of Laramie (in black) and her mother, Mrs. Aven Nelson have alighted from the excursion train to Centennial on the LHP&PRR, c. 1907. Behind them, the depot at Centennial is shown in its former location on the west side of the railroad tracks. It has now been relocated further east on the edge of town and is the centerpiece of the Nici Self Historical Museum. Nici and Pat Self operated the “Old Corral” of Centennial, a popular watering hole for locals and tourists in the 1950s through 1980s. It burned twice; the current Old Corral in Centennial is the third establishment with that name on the site. Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum