Kiwanis Springs: once a respite for thirsty cars and people in Telephone Canyon

In the 1920s, a Laramie Kiwanis Club member had an idea to develop a picnic area with a water fountain in Telephone Canyon. At that time, the “Lincoln Highway” was mostly unpaved, but the route through the canyon  was the “improved” road to Laramie from Cheyenne, as opposed to the former auto route to Tie Siding and then back up to Laramie.

 John Leo Centlivre was a Laramie commercial photographer with a studio upstairs at 311 ½ S. Second Street. He took scenic photographs of area landscapes, which he developed into picture postcards for sale.  So he probably knew about the natural spring up the steep canyon sides at approximately a half mile past milepost 322 eastbound on Interstate 80.

 Telephone Canyon looked very different in those days--it was much deeper than it is now.  The spring was high up and inaccessible from the roadbed.  So Centlivre, probably with the help of other Kiwanis Club members, piped water from the natural spring down toward the south side of the road, where there was a flat area for a picnic grounds.

 The piped water ran all the time, with drinking water fountains on either side.  They were inserted into the back wall of a tall rubble arch made with sandstone found at the site.  The spring was useful; it became a well-known landmark along the road. It was marked by a plaque, noted on some roadmaps.  It might have been possible for a lucky driver in those days to have made it to the picnic grounds and fountain without the car’s radiator overheating.  But if the radiator did overheat, there was a ready source of water, thanks to the Kiwanis Springs.

 The water was thought to be more pure than the water from City Springs at the mouth of the canyon.  Laramie residents took the Lincoln Highway up the canyon to fill jugs, “especially during water shortages or epidemics,” according to Cecil Centlivre of Portland, son of the builder.

 J. Leo and Charlotte Centlivre left Laramie in 1930 for Oregon. His son sent a model of the fountain, perhaps made by J. Leo himself, to the Laramie Kiwanis Club.  The model is, unfortunately, now lost, but the original plaque from the fountain and information about it was donated to the Laramie Plains Museum in 1973. The plaque is on display now in the Laramie Plains Museum, in a “Lincoln Highway” tribute honoring its 101st anniversary in 2014.

 Today there is nothing to be seen of the spot where the Kiwanis Springs had been.  The Lincoln Highway became US 30 down Telephone Canyon. Sometime in the 1950s the roadbed was raised and eventually it was widened to three lanes at that spot, obliterating all vestiges of the picnic grounds and fountain.  The site was just to the west of the Summit, where the steep climb up to Cheyenne was such a workout for the automobiles. The fountain and piping were removed, though it would be interesting to know if the natural spring is still producing up on top of the canyon’s south wall.

 “If we can get up Telephone Canyon, it’s all downhill to Chicago” was the mantra of many drivers heading east out of Laramie.  When Interstate 80 came along in 1965, the roadbed was raised even more and eventually widened to five lanes.  Kiwanis Springs is just a memory to old-timers and a completely unknown feature of the landscape to most residents.

By Jerry Hansen

Caption:  Kiwanis Springs, a 1920s stop along the Lincoln Highway east of Laramie in Telephone Canyon.  These four young women are evidently consulting a map after filling their percolator coffee pot with water at the fountain constructed by the Laramie Kiwanis Club.  The continuously-running water piped to this fountain was welcomed by motorists with overheated radiators, trying to get up the last bit of Rocky Mountains they would need to cross when headed east. It was obliterated with reconstructions of US 30 in the 1950s