The saga of the Holliday house; Laramie’s first mansion

It must have been an exciting day in the late 1970s when the 1878 Holliday house was moved from 319 Garfield St. to three isolated acres at 2252 Welsh Lane, nearly a mile outside city limits.

 The asymmetrical Victorian home was very large by Laramie standards, with at least six bedrooms, two living rooms and probably the largest dining room in a private residence at the time—just 10 years after Laramie’s founding.  It also sported a picturesque windowed tower and interior design by Tiffany & Co. of New York.  

 A hundred years later, it was still very large by 1978 standards. At that time it was vacant and the decision to move or tear it down was being made.  No doubt there were many power lines that had to be lifted, a railroad viaduct and traffic to contend with—traffic of a very different nature than that of 1878.

 W.H. Holliday

The house was built for Ohio-born William Helmus “W.H.” Holliday (1843-1925) and his wife Emily Coykendall (1848-1887). They married in 1869 after an engagement of seven years, according to notes accompanying the Holliday family papers at the UW American Heritage Center (AHC).  There were plenty of children in the Holliday family. After giving birth to a total of twelve, Emily died of heart failure in 1887, at age 38, three weeks after her youngest was born. 

 Therein probably lies the explanation of why Emily Holliday was not mentioned in the newspapers of the time other than for her obituary published on June 25, 1887.  She was either pregnant or in mourning for the death of a child—five predeceased her.  Seven of her children survived to adulthood: Katie (Butler), Guy, Albert, Lois (Fitch), Elizabeth (George), Ruth, and Margaret Holliday.

   Of Emily’s passing the Laramie Sentinel wrote: “…So dark a providence as the death of Mrs. Holliday the brain is benumbed and voice and pen are still.” Ten years later, at age 54, W.H. married schoolteacher Sarah East in Laramie, and they had two additional daughters—Mary Ethel and Helen East.   

 Started out in Sherman

Holliday was the second oldest of six children and had moved with his parents and siblings from Ohio to Illinois. It was there that he met Emily, a schoolmate, according to AHC records.

 Several vanity press publications like the 1903 volume: “Progressive Men of the State of Wyoming” and Bartlett’s 1918  “History of Wyoming” say that W.H. came to Wyoming in 1867 and that his parents came to visit him. His father, Eli Holliday, prospected in the Douglas Creek area, but then died in Sherman [near Ames Monument] in November of 1868.

 W.H. Holliday was an employee of a Denver company that opened a lumber mill west of Cheyenne near Sherman, then the end point of the westward-bound railroad. According to the AHC accounts, his younger brother Jethro Tabor Holliday (1844-1910) accompanied him.

 By 1870, Holliday was in the lumber business at Dale Creek, a few miles south of Sherman, in partnership with his brother Jethro and William R. Williams.  In 1872, Williams left the firm and W.H. established a lumber mill in Cheyenne. Jethro was manager through 1875 when ads for the Cheyenne Holliday lumber mill cease.  The brothers also built a lumber mill in Laramie,

 Arrives in Laramie

In 1873 W.H. Holliday moved to Laramie while Jethro stayed in Cheyenne. The W.H. Holliday lumber mill took up the entire block between 3rd and 4th St. where the Laramie Montessori School is now (between Kearney and Sheridan Sts.).

 Jethro came to Laramie in 1879, taking care of the contracting side of the brother’s business, which had also branched out to sell hardware and all types of building supplies. There was a lumberyard fire in 1880 but in 1881 they built at a new location on South 2nd St. eventually completing a four-story merchandising center that occupied most of the city block between Garfield and Custer Sts. W.H. was the president, and J.T. the vice-president of W.H. Holliday & Co.

 Early on the business was advertised in the Sentinel newspaper as “Holliday & Stryker’s.” It was not unusual for a furniture store to handle coffins for sale as well as funeral services. J. W. Stryker, an undertaker, took care of that part of the business and was treasurer of the company. J.T. Holliday managed building contracting, which saw the W.H. Holliday company winning bids to build part of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, several other churches, Albany National Bank, the Masonic Temple, UW’s Merica Hall and the Wyoming Territorial Prison, among others.   

 Success in politics and merchandising

According to the Albany County Assessor’s detailed property records, the Holliday Mansion was built at the northwest corner of South C and 4th Streets in 1878. By then W.H. was advertising often in the Sentinel, offering nearly everything in the way of hardware and building supplies though the big store on South 2nd St. had not yet been built.

 That W.H. was among the most prosperous of Laramie City early residents is indicated by the number of elected offices he held in the Wyoming Territorial Legislature starting in 1873 and later the Wyoming Legislature between 1893 and 1917.  He also served as an Albany County Commissioner, member of the Laramie school board, and trustee of the University of Wyoming.

 The construction portion of the family business stopped in 1910 when J.T. Holliday died. W.H. bought out J.T.’s heirs.  After W.H.’s death in 1925, his sons Guy and Albert became the proprietors, concentrating on groceries and furniture. A huge fire in 1948 essentially destroyed the business, though it limped along as a furniture store until 1975 in a different location. 

 Comus Rooms

Apparently not too long after the death of W.H. Holliday in 1925, the mansion was sold and became the “Comus,” a rooming house.  At some point the Laramie Boomerang took over most of the ground floor and may have owned the lot and building. 

 With the removal of the Comus [sometime before 1980] and the building of a new Boomerang office there, the address changed to 314 S. 4th St.. Eventually the Boomerang relinquished that building to Alsco Co. and constructed another at the corner of 4th and Grand where it is now.  

 It is fortunate that the house still stands as a historic reminder of Laramie’s past even though it is not in its original location. It can be reached by driving west over the Curtis Street overpasses, past all the truck stops, and continuing west as the paved road becomes gravel.  The first intersection is not well marked, but it is Welsh Lane (also gravel), and a right turn there reveals the large house on the left.

 Forgotten legacy

Though there were undoubtedly some happy times with nine children in the home, the emotional highs and lows of Emily’s story are invisibly locked within its walls.  The story of the grieving widower and how the seven children fared for 10 years until stepmother Sarah and two more children entered the picture is unwritten.  However, the new Mrs. Holliday was much more in the social whirl of Laramie, evidenced by frequent mentions in the newspapers.

 The Holliday house has had several owners over the years, and sometimes looked more dilapidated than it does now. Its 2017 owners advertised each of the eight bedrooms for $250/month plus $50 for utilities. The 2018 owner says that he sold it for $275,000 and notes that it contains five bathrooms.

On a recent Saturday afternoon there were six cars parked at the residence. So there may be quite a bit of life left in the old mansion.

By Judy Knight

Caption: The 1878 W.H. Holliday home when it was at 319 East Garfield Street Laramie in an undated photo—apparently around 1882 when Laramie received telephone service.But streets are not paved yet, and sewers are open ditches with a wooden walkway built over them for pedestrians.Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum.

W.H. Holliday (1843-1925)