A Victorian Gem In Laramie

My vote for the most unique house in Laramie is one that is hiding practically in the middle of town.

 Situated on South 10th St. between Garfield and Grand, it was not hidden when built, but now it is wedged between others and has two tall spruce trees in its tiny fenced yard that all but obliterate the view.

 Called the “Holt House,” it is one of Laramie’s earliest homes still standing, in addition to being very nearly the only house in Wyoming built in the dramatic Gothic Revival style.  This was one of the ten distinct “Victorian” residential styles that developed in America around the time of Victoria’s accession to the British throne in 1837.  The style was probably already out of fashion on the east coast by the time it was built here, but that didn’t matter in Laramie.  We don’t know the exact year of its construction, but it was sometime between 1870 and 1872. 

 The house is dripping with “Carpenter Gothic” bargeboards and at least eleven 3-foot tall or even higher finials at the top of each pointed gable.  Other details such as the steeply pitched roof and vertical lines perfectly fit the Gothic Revival style.  The house clearly shows the love and careful maintenance of the first and subsequent owners--these vintage wooden structures require much attention.

 It is certainly an architect-designed house; its many wall dormers, cross-gables and “gingerbread” trim make it a much more complicated project than the typical Laramie home of the era.

 But we don’t know the name of the architect.  It could have been James Adams, who was one of the architects advertising at the time in the Laramie newspaper. Or, it could have been from an architectural plan book that might have been available at the local lumberyard.

 Yet, despite these unknowns, this Gothic Revival home is a true gem of the “Gem City,” deserving of landmark status.  It took a very skilled local carpenter to execute the design.

 It’s all the more amazing to learn that the house isn’t even in the exact location where it was built.  When first erected, it faced north instead of east, at 914 Grand Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets.

 In 1929, UW professor Dr. Samuel H. Knight and his wife Edwina, owners at the time, had the large house turned on its foundation to face east with the front door now on 10th Street.  That gave two additional lots on Grand Avenue and one on 10th Street, probably for additional revenue during the Great Depression. 

 Sam Knight (1892-1975) was the third member of his family to own the house.  His father, Wilbur Knight, had purchased it in 1901.  However, he died suddenly in 1903, passing it on to his widow, Emma Howell Knight, (1865-1928). Ownership then went to her son.

 The original owner of the house was Peter Holt, an English-born transplant who started out as a “barkeep” (1870 Laramie census) but quickly became a grocer and dry goods merchant, with a store at the corner of 2nd and Grand (then called “South B” Street). 

 Holt may have commissioned the house as a gift for his wife, Floretta, who apparently didn’t move with him to Laramie. He is listed as “single” in the 1870 Laramie census.  The Laramie District Court dissolved the marriage at his request in September 1871 because of “abandonment.”  There is no evidence that she ever saw the house though the now-single Holt may have lived in it until 1876. 

 In 1876, Holt ran a humorous ad stating that he was “Grocer and Confectioner to her majesty the Queen, President Grant or anybody else who has the cash to pay for the goods.” The humor didn’t do much for business; he sold the Gothic Revival house in late 1876; at the same time he also sold his store and other Laramie property.

 In January 1877 there is a fascinating tidbit in the Laramie Sentinel probably written by its editor, J.H. Hayford, that “Owing to the temporary indisposition of Peter Holt, leader of the Laramie Dancing Academy, many of our friends here united in a pressing invitation for us to take his place, but we are compelled to decline the kind request.” 

 Holt vanished from town—there is no indication that his “temporary disposition” was serious but his name never appears in the newspaper again and he is not buried in Greenhill Cemetery.

 Whatever fate had in store for him, he did leave behind a beautiful home.

By Judy Knight

Caption:  The Gothic Revival Holt House shown here when it faced Grand Avenue, with Emma Knight and her infant son Oliver on the steps.  An alley separated this house from its neighbor to the west, which was Washington School, now an apartment building.  It was turned on its foundation so that today its address is 310 S. 10th Street. Wilbur Knight, then his widow Emma and then their son Samuel owned the house for about 75 years.  Sam and Emma have the unique distinction of each having a different building on the UW campus named after them, resulting in the slightly confusing existence of two “Knight” buildings on campus, one Knight Hall, the other Knight Geology. Photo courtesy of Laramie Plains Museum