A Repurposed Building Changes with the Times

When Laramie was founded in May of 1868, the pioneers quickly banded together to form congregations and build places of worship.  One of those churches is now a yoga studio, representing a banding together of an altogether different sort. 

 That repurposed church was built as the Methodist Episcopal Church, constructed in 1870 at the SE corner of Second and what is now called University Street.  A simple gable-front and wing style, it featured an open cupola above the front door, and a large bell tower (though there is no record of there ever being a bell). Laramie writer Gladys Beery claimed the architect and builder was James Adams.

 It served the congregation for 34 years until a new church was built in 1904 at the corner of Fifth and Ivinson (where the Albany County Detention Center is now).  An organization called the Boston Hotel Company bought the original church and the land around 1908 with the idea of moving the building and constructing a hotel on the vacant site.  A major developer, Isaac Van Horn of Boston, and his Wyoming partners were promoting and financing the development of gold and copper mines near Centennial, and a coal mine in Colorado. Also, they built the railroad to Centennial, completed in 1907.  Van Horn was involved with the Boston Hotel Company though evidence that this company ever actually owned or built a hotel in Laramie or elsewhere has not been verified.  However, they did move the building diagonally across the street to 150 N. Second Street.

 The Boston Hotel Company built a basement foundation at the new location, raising the former church above the ground five feet.  The movers did not bother to turn the building around, so now the side that originally faced front is in the back, along the alley, and the rear of the old church now faces Second St.  Consequently, with these and subsequent alterations, the church in its new location looks very little like the original building.    

 The Elks (BPOE) of Laramie bought the old church building and for several years it was their lodge.  Then, in 1910, they moved to 103 S. Second Street, a new building on the site of the former location of the old church.  It is unclear whether the Boston Hotel Company built it or if the Elks did.  There were hotel rooms in the lodge building where members (usually railroad crews) could spend the night before heading back to their homes in Cheyenne or Rawlins the next day. 

 The old church was sold by the Elks to the Moose Club of Laramie which used it for a while. Then it became a warehouse for Smith’s Furniture Outlet, a bicycle shop operated by Phil Frank, an art gallery, a computer software company, and now a yoga studio.  The variety can almost be an idicator of changing societal needs.

 In 2002 a historic plaque was placed on the building which says: “Built in 1869 for Methodist Episcopal Church, this edifice is likely the oldest church building in Wyoming…”  New information suggests that an earlier church was probably built in Cheyenne by 1869, and the Laramie church built a few weeks later was actually a little wooden Episcopal Church at Second and Ivinson, in the same block as the current Episcopal Cathedral. The original Methodist Episcopal congregation organized in 1869 changed its name to United Methodist Church of Laramie, but traces its history back to the 1870 building shown in the photo.  The Methodist church is now located in its third building, at 1215 Gibbon Street.  

By Judy Knight, with assistance from Leroy Maki

Caption:  The first Methodist Church in Laramie, built in 1870 at the SE corner of what was then Second Street and “Centre” (now University Avenue).  The pole indicates that this photo dates from around 1886, when Laramie’s Light Plant began operating.  This building was not demolished when the Methodists built a new church in 1904.  Instead, around 1906, it was moved diagonally across the street and became the Elks Lodge for a time.  A basement foundation about five feet above grade level was constructed, giving the current building a much taller appearance than this photo shows. In 1910 the Elks Lodge moved back to a much bigger building at the original church location at 103 S. Second Street, where the Elks Lodge is still located today.   Photo courtesy of the First United Methodist Collection at the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center