Historic Laramie House Becomes County Hospital

In 1867, Union Pacific Railroad management employees came to the Laramie area, and after staying at or near Fort Sanders, they ventured three miles up to where they knew Laramie City would be built. They caused to have erected a sturdy building of 2” x 6” lumber at what is now 4th St. and Grand Ave. It served as their clubhouse and dormitory when they were near Laramie.

 By the late summer of 1868, the railroad track-laying activities had moved west, so the clubhouse in Laramie was no longer needed. They deeded it over to the Fort Sanders sutler, John A. Wanless. For the rest of its existence, this 15-room house was known as the “Wanless Building.”

 When “Colonel” Wanless came to Laramie in 1866, it was to lead a company of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry to Fort Sanders. The fort was new, the cavalry was to help provide protection for travelers, railroad workers and to support other military outposts. But Wanless, who was not a professional soldier, was anxious to muster out of the military now that the Civil War was over.

 Wanless’ resignation was finally accepted in Laramie in 1867 and the commander of Fort Sanders asked that Wanless be named the Post sutler. Apparently Wanless had anticipated this, since the commander mentions that “Col Wanless purchased his [the previous sutler’s] entire stock and building and has since given general satisfaction to officers and men.”

 Wanless was always referred to in the newspapers with the honorific title of “Colonel,” though it appears that the highest rank the Canadian-born U.S. citizen obtained was Lieutenant Colonel.

 Wanless relocated his dry goods store from Fort Sanders to Laramie in 1868, first at 2nd and B Streets, though by 1870 someone else had the store. Maria Wanless, his wife, was pregnant in Denver at the time and that became his home base, though he reportedly had business interests all over Colorado. He came back to Laramie by 1875 and began another short-lived dry goods store on South A Street (Grand Avenue) between 1st and 2nd Streets. He was also active in civic affairs.

 In 1875 a Laramie newspaper reports that “Mrs. Col Wanless has arrived in Laramie to permanently relocate.” They lived in the Wanless Building, with their four boys.

 However, that same year John Wanless filed for bankruptcy in Denver. His holdings in Wyoming were sold to recover about $20,000 for his creditors. The “Wanless Building” in Laramie may have been in Maria’s name, for she continued to live here with their four boys.

 Wanless sued for divorce in Leadville Colorado in 1880, and was granted custody of two minor children, Mark and John who were ages 10 and 8.

 It appears that after his bankruptcy, Wanless did not return often, if ever, to Laramie. His brother George F. Wanless was interviewed by the Colorado Springs Daily Gazette about John A. Wanless’ death in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1886. George mentions that John’s wife “Mary” was with him at the time, and that he was probably buried in his second wife’s hometown of Corning, Iowa. He was 53.

 The death of John A. Wanless was big news in Colorado, because he had been prominent in politics, and was one of the storied “59’ers” who came to the territory with the gold rush to the Pikes Peak area that year.

 Meanwhile, his ex-wife Maria was in Laramie, and when she heard the news of the death of John, she suffered a stroke [“apoplexy”], and died within a week of his death, on June 27, 1886 at the age of 49. She is buried at Greenhill Cemetery.

 The Wanless Building had several subsequent owners, and its 15 rooms were put to good use as a boarding house.

 In 1903 it was dilapidated. Albany County purchased it and the quarter-block lot. The building was moved about 12 blocks east on Grand Avenue where it was fixed up (though with outdoor plumbing initially) and operated as the County Hospital for 19 more years.

 The building served as the County Hospital until 1922, when a new County Hospital was built at 18th and Custer Streets. The old Wanless Building was sold for about $8,000, but was eventually torn down. UW high-rise dormitories now occupy the site.

By Judy Knight

Caption: Laramie is four years old in this 1872 photo looking west down Avenue A (Grand Ave.). At the center foreground is a simple but large (3 chimneys!) one-story wooden building that was built in 1867 as a clubhouse and dormitory by Union Pacific Railroad management personnel. Subsequently known as the “Wanless Building” it was moved to become the County Hospital. At the left edge is the Baptist Church, where the Laramie Boomerang offices are today. The site of the Wanless Building is now the Carnegie Building (at 4th and Grand Ave.), the former Albany County Library. Photo courtesy of Laramie Plains Museum. Note: the oft seen full image of early Laramie is mislabeled '1870." Buildings shown in the image, however indicate it was obtained in 1872.