There’s a Story in the Furniture; If Only This Bed Could Talk

If it hadn’t been for Ragnhild “Ronnie” Solheim, some treasures from Laramie’s past might never have been saved.  The Solheims came to Laramie in 1929, when her husband, Wilhelm, became a professor of Botany at UW. They rented several domiciles for 10 years, their last a furnished old house at 616 Ivinson Avenue.

The wood-frame house and its old-fashioned furniture belonged to Judge Melville C. and Nancy F. Brown. Her father, Luther Fillmore, was superintendent for the building of the Union Pacific Railroad through Laramie. She was 15 when her dad moved to Laramie in 1868, bachelor Melville Brown was 30.  The Fillmores home was the 616 Ivinson Avenue house.

An attorney, Melville Brown became Laramie’s first mayor in 1868. We don’t know if Nancy met Melville then, but they were married in the Fillmore home six years later, in 1874.  One can imagine that the families of the ex-mayor, the UP superintendent, and the Ivinsons were among the elite of the Gem City at that time.  Melville eventually became a District Judge in Alaska. When he and Nancy moved back to Laramie in 1908, there is speculation that they brought back some Russian-made furniture. However, the furniture might have been brought to Laramie by Nancy’s parents when they moved here from Pennsylvania, or even purchased in Laramie.

By the time the Solheims arrived in Laramie in 1929, two of the Brown’s three daughters had married and moved away, Judge Brown had died and Mrs. Brown soon moved to California with one of the daughters—leaving the house and furniture behind.  Another daughter, Susan, remained in Laramie and lived in the Fillmore/Brown house for a time.  Susan left Laramie and eventually settled in California, leaving  much of her inherited furniture behind.  Perhaps it was too massive for her. Ronnie Solheim remembered that Susan was tiny, barely five feet tall. 

The Solheims felt obliged to take some of the Brown’s furniture with them when they moved into their newly constructed home at 1703 Kearney around 1940.  Susan had arranged for other family belongings to be stored in a leaky warehouse where the Solheims were concerned it would be ruined. Susan agreed that the Solheims could “take care of” some of the most valuable pieces for her. But in 1992, Ronnie, then a widow and recognizing the historical value of the furniture, gave the bedroom set and several other items to the Laramie Plains Museum.

So who actually owned the furniture?  Susan died in 1950, apparently without a will giving the furniture to the Solheims, or anyone else.  The Solheims had essentially stored it for her for over 60 years.  Ronnie died in 1998.  Does the Museum now own it?  Yes, considering that Wyoming’s “abandoned property” statute 34-23-101 allows a museum to claim ownership of a loaned artifact if no one else has come forward after 10 years to prove ownership.  For the last 20 years the furniture has been enjoyed by thousands of visitors in an elegant setting on the second floor of the Ivinson Mansion.

The Fillmores, Browns and Ivinsons were all pioneer Laramie residents.  They lived across the street from each other on what was first called “A” Street, then Thornburgh, and finally, Ivinson Avenue.  The Ivinson Mansion still stands as a repository for treasured artifacts of Laramie history, while the Fillmore/Brown house was torn down along with all the other houses on that block to make way for the “new” Safeway store—now Ace Hardware and Advance Auto Parts. In a great coincidence, Judge Brown and Mr. Ivinson died on the same day in 1928, just hours apart. 

By Judy Knight with assistance from Leroy Maki of the Albany County Genealogical Society

Caption:  The southeast bedroom in the Ivinson Mansion displays ornate Victorian Eastlake-style furniture that the M.C. Browns may have brought back to Laramie in 1908 after a stint in Alaska.  The tall headboard has burl wood inlays and carved details.  On the left is a bookcase that also once belonged to the Browns, and on the right a washstand that matches the bed.   There is speculation that the furniture was made in Russia, though no maker’s marks have been discovered on it. The portrait over the washstand is of Nancy Fillmore Brown, wife of Laramie’s first mayor, Melville C. Brown. Photo courtesy of Laramie Plains Museum