NOTE SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE BOOMERANG, THE CITY HAS RETURNED THE STREET TO ITS PROPER NAME - WHY? READ ON!
Over the next two years the city of Laramie will reconstruct part of the street that runs through the oldest part of town. It passes Laramie’s oldest bank, St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Laramie City Hall, the Albany County Courthouse, the Laramie Plains Museum and the University of Wyoming.
The question arises, is it Ivinson Street or Ivinson Avenue?
After Grenville Dodge, chief civil engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, laid out the city in July 1867, the streets in the town were given very simple names. Streets running north and south were numbered and most streets running east and west were given letters of the alphabet. From Center Street (now University) they were South A (now Ivinson), North A (now Fremont) etc.
No changes were made until the University of Wyoming came along in 1886. Center Street was renamed University Avenue. In 1889 the remaining east-west streets were given the names that they bear today, with one exception.
That exception is the street that was renamed in 1889 from South A to Thornburgh Street (often misspelled Thornburg). It had been named for Major Thomas Thornburgh who was a unit commander at Fort Steele and was killed in a skirmish with the Ute tribe in 1879 in Colorado.
As early as 1921 it was suggested that the street be renamed to honor Laramie banker and philanthropist, Edward Ivinson. Ivinson had given money to the county to build a modern hospital, deeded his mansion to the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming for use as a girl’s boarding school and donated funds to finish the Cathedral, all buildings on Thornburgh Street.
Opposition arose from an unlikely source, Ivinson’s neighbor Melville C. Brown. Brown lived on Thornburgh Street, opposite the Ivinson Mansion block. He was a longtime friend of the Ivinson family but was reported by the Laramie Republican newspaper as being opposed to the change. Brown stated that “General Thornburg” deserved the honor because of his long history in the state. However, Brown got Thornburgh’s name, rank and importance to Wyoming wrong.
More likely Brown opposed the move because for nearly a decade he tried to get Ivinson to enter into a real estate deal that Brown felt would make him a lot of money. Ivinson did not sell the property in question in the present LaBonte Park area, instead, he gave the property to the local orphanage; they eventually sold it.
The 1921 attempt was unsuccessful, but in 1928, A. C. Jones, vice president of the First National Bank, tried again. Jones solicited signatures from everyone who lived on the street to support the change to Ivinson Avenue. He presented the petition to the city council. Apparently the only person who would not sign was M. C. Brown.
Despite Brown’s opposition, Mayor Stephen Downey signed a city ordinance on January 21, 1928 changing the name of the street to Ivinson Avenue. Ivinson died 10 weeks later.
But today the street signs read “Ivinson Street.” How did the change come about?
It seems that no one really knows. Maps produced by the Wyoming Highway Department (1977) the Laramie City Engineer (1982), and the University of Wyoming Architect (1983) all clearly label the street “Ivinson Avenue.” Additionally, a photo taken of the corner of Second and Ivinson in 1982 shows a street sign titled “Ivinson Ave.”
There are no city records showing that a name change to Ivinson Street was mandated by the city council. Consultations with the city planner yielded no existing records explaining the change. So we are left with the question unanswered.
Available evidence indicates that the name of the street should be Ivinson Avenue not Ivinson Street. Perhaps the reconstruction project would be a good time to invest in new street signs and change it back.
By Kim Viner
Caption: 1980's photo showing street sign corner of 2nd Street and ivinson Avenue. This and other images of that era of Laramie can be found on the National Register of Historic Sites - Laramie Downtown Historic District