The Laramie Plains Museum – Path to a Permanent Home

The year 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the Laramie Plains Museum. Hard work by dedicated and generous community members has preserved significant items of local historical significance showcased in the Ivinson mansion. Acquiring a permanent home has been a long journey.

In the early 1920’s the Laramie Woman’s Club, acting out of a recognized need to preserve the history of the county, opened a museum in the Albany County Library. Variously described as “small” or “in a closet,” it was the first real attempt at preserving our history.

The museum remained in that location for many years. As the need for more space was evident, the Club looked for a new location for the collection. Finally, December 7, 1941, the museum was opened in its new location in the basement of Laramie City Hall.

Soon, the responsibility for the museum and its collection was assumed by the Albany County Historical Society. The Society was founded on February 10,1943, with one of its stated goals to promote financial and legal backing for the museum. Within a year, the Society was in charge of the museum.

The Society would continue that management for just over two decades experiencing some travails along the way. First, in 1951, they were required to move the museum out of city hall.

They found a new home in Albany County courthouse but in 1958 the space in the courthouse was needed by the county and the museum was closed. Some items in the collection were put in temporary storage wherever space could be found and some items were returned to the donors.

The Society would continue its quest for a new home for the museum and its collection, but it was not until 1965 that it began to collect funds for the endeavor. Corresponding with that move, the Society decided a separate organization would be needed to carry out the task of fund raising. The new organization was the Laramie Plains Museum Association which accepted its first members on November 9, 1966.

Six months later, the LPMA was informed that Mr. H. Neil Roach was ready to solve the challenge of where the museum would be located. He stated he was ready to give his home to the LPMA if they could raise $35,000 which would assure the proper maintenance of the house and grounds. Some considered it an impossible task. But LPMA member Alice Hardie Stevens believed it could be done.

Mr. Roach, aged 90, died on July 17, 1967, and immediately the LPMA sprang into action to raise the money to meet Roach’s stipulation. Two days later, the Laramie Woman’s Club stepped up and gave the LPMA a $5,000 gift to move the dream of a permanent location for the museum forward.

By February 25, 1968 the goal had been reached and even surpassed as it was announced that $47,694 had been raised. The establishment of the museum in Mr. Roach’s home on the SW corner of 15th and Grand was now assured. The doors to the museum were opened in April.

It would seem that the future was settled. Soon, however, Mrs. Stevens would learn that the abandoned Ivinson mansion and property were to be sold by the Episcopal Church. Fearing for the future of the historic home, Mrs. Stevens privately inquired of the Church what the selling price was. They responded $250,000 – market price. Mrs. Stevens hesitated to bring a potential purchase before the board for “many months.”

Eventually she did and by that time the Church had lowered its price to $130,000, most likely because of LPMA’s intent to preserve the historic buildings. At the time the architectural firm of Hitchcock and Hitchcock estimate that an additional $60,000 would be needed to make the house into museum.

Undaunted, the LPMA immediately launched a fund raising campaign with the goal of raising the needed money to buy the property by March 31, 1972. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stevens worked to get the museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

She also approached the Albany County Commissioners and asked if they would be a sponsoring agent to apply for a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to buy the property. The county said yes, but the plan was abandoned after it was determined that the result would be that the county would own the property and LPMA would be required to lease it.

To boost the fund raising efforts, LPMA voted on February 21, 1972, to apply the money gained from the eventual sale of Mr. Roach’s former residence to the Ivinson property fund drive. Two days later, the Ivinson mansion was entered into the National Register.

With the dedication of funds from the sale of the house and the funds collected in 1967-1968 to secure Mr. Roach’s home, the drive was reported to have on hand $87,000 by the 27th of February.

Significant effort was made by community members to add to the fund. Activities included a coupon drive, door to door canvasing of all Laramie neighborhoods, a barbeque, an auction and a radio marathon. Unfortunately, by the end of March only $105,430 had been raised, far short of the needed $130,000.

Soon two things happened to make the purchase of the Ivinson property possible. Negotiations begun with the Episcopal Church on 5 April 1972 resulted in a $20,000 reduction in the price. Now the LPMA was only $5,000 short.

Then the hard work of grant writing paid off. Exactly one week later, it was announced that a $50,000 grant had been received from Uncle Sam’s Historic Preservation Act fund. The purchase went ahead and on 21 June the deed to the Ivinson property was transferred from the Episcopal Church to the Laramie Plains Museum Association.

The collection was moved from the old location into the Ivinson mansion soon after the purchase was finalized. After the move was completed and preparations wrapped up, the Ivinson mansion as the new permanent home of the Laramie Plains Museum was formally dedicated on 10 July 1973, Wyoming Statehood Day. It remains there today, elegantly restored, as a proud example of how a community can pull tougher to preserve a window to its past.

By Kim Viner

Caption: Ivinson Mansion, home of the Laramie Plains Museum