Hidden in plain sight are a row of seven historic Laramie stone houses. Built in 1883 on the east side of 6th street between University and Fremont, the seven are still standing, though to the casual observer one cannot tell that they were formerly identical.
Called “Bath Row,” they are a variation of the classic American “shotgun” working family homes found predominantly in the South and in railroad towns. The derisive name comes from the supposition that if the front and back doors were open, a shot through all three rooms would not hit anything. In the case of Bath Row you could have shot sideways through 14 open windows, perhaps with the same result.
They were built by Laramie pioneer Theodore Bath, who brought stone masonry traditions from his native Germany. The actual stonemason designer was probably a workman employed by Bath. There were four Bath brothers in Laramie, entrepreneurs in late 19th century, owners of a number of businesses including a hotel, brewery, bar, and ranch. The brothers sired a family dynasty that still makes “Bath” a familiar Laramie surname.
The unknown stone mason was obviously experienced. There are a number of other stone buildings still standing around Laramie commissioned by the Bath brothers. Bath Row is unique in that these are such small three-room stone cottages, originally built without bathrooms. The fronts that face west are carefully worked stones, squared off and fitted together with contrasting-stone arched front windows. The sides are less elaborate “rubble” stone walls.
The economy in construction shows that Theodore Bath had the seven built as rentals. He saw to it that they were far enough away from the tracks that smokestack cinders would not be a nuisance in the yards and clotheslines, but close enough to easily walk to work. He couldn’t do much about the two stables close by, however, which undoubtedly brought flies to the neighborhood.
It is possible that Laramie photographer J. Heyn scrambled to the tower of the unfinished Old Main in 1887 to take the photo that shows the lineup of the backs of all seven cottages.
Eventually the seven were sold to different owners who changed both the interiors and exteriors. Indoor plumbing was added, and several have additions to the side or backs; one has a glassed-in front entry porch. Four owners covered all of the stone with new stucco siding, obscuring the stone.
By the time the houses were 100 years old, only three retained their original appearance. Those three were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, together with a stone stable at 611 University, which was also relatively unchanged and built at the same time. That stable is now owned by the Laramie Plains Museum. The Museum is developing plans to restore the building following state and federal guidelines for buildings that are listed on the National Register.
Two adjacent three-room Bath Row cottages were purchased by one owner who then successfully designed a “hyphen” connection between the two. This created one seven-room residence while still retaining the historic designation and character of Bath Row.
A careful look at the houses today shows that even with the addition of the stucco or a front porch, the ridge line of the original stone building underneath can still be seen. With some imagination, the entire row of formerly identical stone cottages can be visualized.
By Judy Knight
Caption: This c. 1887 view looking west shows the block between University (then Centre St.) on the left and Fremont (then North A St.) on the right. The seven identical stone cottages shown from the back are Bath Row on 6th Street, each with an outhouse and tree along the alley. There were bigger houses at each end of 6th Street. The bigger house on the south end (still standing), is obscured by its large stone stable that faces University. Looming over Bath Row, in the background, is a larger stable which was built for the U.S. Post Office. It housed stagecoaches and the fresh horses for rural deliveries. It was on the west side of the alley between Fremont and University and was entered from Fremont Street. A long-gone landmark was the Laramie Cattleman’s Club, the large building with a tower to the left of the mail stable, where the current Post Office parking lot is now on 5th and University. Photo by J. Heyn, courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum