A Bath family legacy in stone at 611 University Avenue

A stable built in the late 1800s by German-born Theodore Bath has recently taken on a new life. Once known around town as the  “Stone House,” it is a far cry from its origins.

 Theodore Bath (1840-1918) was the youngest of six children of Herman K. and Magdalene Bath. At age 8 he arrived in New York with his parents and brothers. He married Johanna O’Conners in 1864 in New York. They had three sons, and moved with the extended Bath family to Iowa in 1866.

 Four Bath brothers

 They likely arrived in Laramie, Wyoming Territory around 1876, the last of the Bath siblings to do so. His three older brothers were well-established businessmen in Laramie by 1872. They were Henry (ranching and hotel management), Friedrick (brewing) and William (saloon keeping).

 In April of 1877, the Laramie Sentinel newspaper mentions that Theodore had a vegetable stand and grocery on 2nd Street between South B and C Streets (now Grand and Garfield). At the same time he was also the manager of the Mechanics House Hotel on South B.

 Within a year he had moved on to be the manager the Frontier Hotel at the intersection of South C and 2nd Streets. An April 1878 newspaper announcement shows he had leased the hotel. Later in the year the paper noted he, at least temporarily, was running a freighting business to the Yellowstone area. He might also have been the manager of the Laramie Hotel (also on South B).

 Builds with stone

 The first indication that Theodore Bath was building stone structures on block 161 of the original town of Laramie (the block north of the Laramie Plains Museum) appeared in the Sentinel on August 27, 1881. It was noted that five stone houses as rentals were under construction (eventually there were seven, all still standing).

 The article praised the use of local stone as a building material.  The newspaper description leads to the conclusion they were what is now referred to as Bath Row on 6th Street between University and Fremont Streets.

 Although no specific reference has been found on exactly when the building at 611 University Street was begun, it was likely around 1881. Construction probably continued through 1882 and 1883 as noted in a mortgage Bath and his wife took out from Will Adamson in 1882.  There was also an 1883 mechanics lien for construction materials and another mortgage (to W. H. Holliday and August Trabing respectively); the latter was likely to pay for the former.

 Many excavations

 In a trend that has been seen in other prominent Laramie families, in 1886 Theodore transferred to his wife ownership of lots five through eight of the block with the Stone House. At the time, Bath was noted in the Laramie papers as engaged in multiple excavations around town. He may also have been a back at managing a local hotel.

 He was also listed in the newspaper as being delinquent on property tax payments. Possibly title to the lots was transferred to his wife to avoid their being encumbered by Bath’s tax difficulties.

 Evidence of the completed Stone House is shown on an 1885 map of Laramie prepared by the city engineer. The building was marked as a livery stable/barn though it is not clear if it was a stand-alone facility or intended to go with an adjacent home. It was not until 1890 that the block was shown on the Sanborn fire insurance maps, which also labeled the structure as a barn or livery stable, as did a city map of 1894.

 Joanna dies

 Bath’s wife Johanna died a lingering death in 1892, three years after suffering frostbite on a UPRR passenger train when the heating system failed and, inexplicably, she refused to leave that train car. Now a widower, Bath had temporarily moved to the “soldier’s home” in Cheyenne by 1894.

 Likely due to Johanna’s invalid condition, most if not all of Theodore Bath’s properties were transferred to his sons John and Thomas. Due to the multiple mortgages, the brothers asked the district court to “clarify” the title in 1891. When cleared, they sold the Stone House to Sayer Hansen in 1893.

 The 1912 Sanborn map lists the building as a dwelling—a big change from barn/livery or stable. The change took place between the 1894 and 1912. The city directory of 1913/1914 shows a man named Solon Bailey living there but is not clear if the entire building was converted to a dwelling or only a part.

 Many owners

 It is possible that the stable became a residence in 1911 when Sayer Hansen sold the property to Isora McClure. By then Theodore Bath had moved back to Laramie and lived in a house on 1005 South First Street.

 The 1911 papers noted that Bath was badly burned when the stove at his house exploded. After the 71-year-old recovered from that unfortunate episode, he fell off the roof while cleaning out the chimney. After the last accident Bath moved to California to be near a son and died there in 1918.

  Isora McClure sold the Stone House in 1913 to John and Robert Davies; then they sold it in1917 to Nora Sander. Mrs. Sander sold it to the Ryland family in 1927.

 Several other sales were concluded through the succeeding years with current Laramie resident Bill Darcy acquiring the property in 1980 that now included a small red brick house west of the Stone House and an apartment building on the corner of 6th and University Avenue.  Darcy sold to Fred Knadler in 1983. During this period the former stone stable at 611 University was converted to four apartments.

 Doll museum visualized

 Knadler sold it to Bennie and Patricia Ramsey in August 2006. They held it for only one year before concluding a sale to Ann Mears in December 2007. Her idea for the property was to convert it to a location to display her extensive collection of antique dolls. The genesis for the sale, however, originated with long time Laramie Plains Museum (LPM) Association supporter Mary Kay Mason. Noting that the property was for sale, she approached the Association with the idea of acquiring it for historic preservation and to create additional display/storage space for the LPM.

 As the Association did not have the funds in 2007 to conclude the sale, Executive Director Mary Mountain approached Ann Mears to see if she would buy the property and hold it to allow time to raise the money to eventually purchase it from her. Eventually LPM assumed the mortgage in December 2009.

 Major remodeling

 At the time, inspired by Mary Kay Mason’s dream for an additional display space for the museum collections, the thought was to gut and remodel the interior of the building. However, professionals who examined the building did not think it feasible for a museum. Instead, a crew of LPM volunteers  (aided by contractors as necessary) preserved the building’s exterior while remodeling the interior into two upscale short-term income-producing rentals.

 Despite local lore, no evidence has been found that the Ivinson family ever used the stable, though their elegant home is directly across University Avenue. Also not true is the theory that it might have been used as a warehouse for the Bath brewing business.

 Theodore Bath is not usually associated with his brother’s brewery business. Besides that, the brewery was opened in 1873 (by Friedrick Bath) and brother Theodore did not arrive in Laramie until two or three years later.

 Some sources indicate that the building originally had an opening for a carriage entrance on the east side. However, a photo showing the intact east wall of the building belies this claim.

 An architect’s study of the building prepared for the LPM stated that the visible arch opening on the University Avenue side of the building (south) was not wide enough to be used as an entrance for a horse drawn carriage.  At some point that opening was filled in and a small portion became an apartment window.

 LPM volunteer Ron Olsen utilized the original arch on the front to build a false stable door, to pay homage to the remodeled building’s original purpose. He, along with Dave Van Oss and Joyce Powell led a small army of LPM volunteers to transform the building with more than 5,000 hours of volunteer time.

 In the end it can only be said with certainty that the building newly named Mason Loft Condos, based on timing and construction methods, was likely built by Theodore Bath. It dates from the early 1880’s—a barn/stable until approximately 1910-1912 when at least part of the structure was used as a dwelling.

By Kim Viner

Caption:  1901 photo looking west down University Street shows the east side of the stone stable—the two-story building at the left of center. Six of the original seven identical “Bath Row” houses also built by Theodore Bath are seen from the back – they face 6th Street. Photo courtesy of the Wilbur Knight Collection at the UW American Heritage Center.