head

History & News

MUSEUM TEAM WINS TREE LIGHTING AWARD

adoptatree2019

December 13, 2019

The Sweetwater County Historical Museum team won 3rd place in this year’s Green River Chamber Christmas tree lighting event.

The event has been going on since 2002 as a fundraiser for the Green River Chamber. There were 52 trees entered this year along Uinta Drive, and the museum took 3rd place in the Business Division. The event was judged by a special volunteer committee.

You can see a picture of the team accepting the award on our Facebook page. For more pictures, and fascinating history, follow the museum on Facebook.

 

The Green River Passenger Depot:

A Symbol of Community and Prosperity

Brigida R. Blasi

(Originally printed in the Green River Star November 25, 2014 as part of the Echoes From the Bluffs series written by members of the Green River Historic Preservation Commission from 1998 to 2017. This article won a Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award in 2018. All Echoes From the Bluffs articles have been compiled into a series of four books, all of which are available for purchase in the museum store or online at Amazon.com.)

One hundred and ten years ago, in 1904, there began a call to action by the citizens of Green River for a bigger, better passenger station (depot) building—one that would accurately represent the size and success of Green River. “It has been the misfortune of Green River to have a few ‘knockers’ who could see no future for the town; and who have prophesied the final abandonment of the place,” the Wyoming Star reported in January of 1904. It was not a lack of industry that was killing Green River, a citizen’s group claimed, it was a lack of vision. The railroad was the major industry of the town, the depot the first thing people saw when traveling to Green River. As a symbol of civic pride and community engagement, what the town needed to bring citizens together, encourage economic development, and show the world Green River’s social and industrial prosperity was to replace the tiny existing depot with an appropriately grand structure.  

Green River Depot with photographer shadow Low ResolutionGreen River’s new passenger depot was built in 1910 after a group of concerned citizens rallied together to petition the Union Pacific.

This was all brought about because some people were saying Green River was dying. The Union Pacific was going to abandon Green River for Granger, they thought. People had for years heard rumors that the U.P. shops would be moving to Granger (along with all the jobs). Whether this threat to Green River was real or not, it got people’s attention.

This threat to Green River’s survival was not the first, nor the most genuine. Even in its earliest days as a railroad boomtown, the U.P. picked up and moved all operations to Bryan for three years from 1869-1872, threatening to essentially wipe Green River off the map. The U.P. had grown quite accustomed to the wide berth the U.S. government had given them as far as claiming and developing land in the vastly undeveloped and unpopulated West (by people of European descent anyway). When they got to Green River and discovered what they considered to be “squatters” already on “their” land, they moved on to Bryan. But, water was essential to building a railroad in West. When the Black’s Fork River dried up at Bryan, the U.P. was forced to move back to Green River and negotiate with those who had already made claims on the land. If not for the drought that year, we’d all possibly be living in Bryan today.

Green River Stockyards ca. 1920 Low resolutionThe stockyards at the east end of Green River’s railyards, ca. 1920.

But the railroad did stay and Green River grew. Along with the growth of the railroad, several other industries developed in the late 1800s that employed Green River citizens including the early potash and soda works, livestock and farming, ice harvesting from the Green River, and the floating of railroad ties and mine equipment down the river. And with the establishment of Green River as the eastern terminus of the Oregon Short Line along the U.P. main line, Green River’s future was all but secure for the foreseeable future. Yet, in 1904, the citizens were sensing a lag in their town. This appears to be more of a lag in morale and disappointment in how Green River was represented to the outside world than an actual economic lag.

Five years and several thwarted plans and requests later, in April of 1909, the Green River Star reported that all the members of the Commercial Club, along with several landowners, had signed a petition that was sent to the U.P. demanding a new depot building. In part, the petition stated:

 

We, the undersigned citizens of Green River, Wyoming, respectfully petition for the immediate construction of a railroad station that will meet the demands of one of the most important divisions on the Union Pacific and Oregon Short Line systems. The delay in meeting this demand has been a serious drawback to the growth of our city…We have a commodious Court House, a handsome Carnegie Library, a newly constructed Union Pacific Club House, and the promise of a federal post office building…if the Union Pacific will at an early date construct a suitable railroad station it will be a substantial proof that they are interested in the improvement of Green River, and be highly appreciated by its citizens.

 

As proof of Green River’s importance, it was only two months later that Mayor Hugo Gaensslen announced that he had received word that a new depot building had been approved. A month after that, teams of men were already at work moving the U.P. Hotel across the street in order to make room for the larger depot. The news sparked a marked growth in businesses and beautification efforts around the depot including more than 20 new buildings complete with concrete sidewalks (replacing wooden ones), coping on the streets of the residential areas, and a lawn for the U.P. Club House. Already investing in Green River’s future, the U.P. also improved and expanded the roundhouse with a new electric turntable and installed a $90,000 coal chute. As a major railroad town, the area around the passenger station was the hub of the community. These efforts to grow and beautify the area around the depot were not simply to impress visitors, but also to create a centralized social and economic hub for the citizens of Green River.

Finally, after years of efforts to beautify, expand, and develop Green River into a world-class city, the final symbol of its coming-of-age felt complete. Among the town’s selling points could also be counted an electric lighting system, fire and sewer services, and lots of trees. The depot, second in size only to Cheyenne, was huge. The impressive redbrick building consisted of three wings, the central wing being two stories tall and fronted by a 40-foot-long colonnade and arched entranceways. Inside, the building offered both travelers and locals a variety of services including dining room, a café, separate men’s and women’s waiting rooms, bathrooms, ticket office, baggage rooms, and various offices for employees and passenger services.

UP Hotel Low ResolutionThe Union Pacific hotel was moved across the street to the north side of Railroad Avenue, as seen here, to make room for the larger depot building

Not only did the new depot bring in new business to accommodate extra passengers the welcoming structure would surely attract, it also brought in jobs. On October 15th, 1910, the U.P. offices in Ogden officially moved into the depot in Green River due to its central location on the line. The Green River Star reported on October 21st that although some U.P. employees were unhappy about having to leave their homes in Ogden, the majority were “agreeably surprised at our progressive little city” and of course the larger offices in Green River’s new depot building. In the 1940s, the well-recognized “crow’s nest” lookout tower was added to the roof to enable employees to see the entire rail yard. Most U.P. employees call this simply “the tower.”

In the 1960s, the interior was dramatically altered to turn the lower floor into offices. Recently, the City of Green River acquired the depot building from the U.P. with now much publicized plans to renovate it and turn it into a multi-use building to bolster community and economic development in downtown.

The building turned 104 years old in October and just as in 1904, Green River has a business district struggling to survive amidst rumors of the city’s demise. In 1910, the depot brought economic and social development to a city that needed it, but that only happened because the citizens actively came together as a community and were determined to improve their city. With the support of the community, the depot can once again be an epicenter of downtown development and a symbol of Green River’s civic pride.

Green River Man Served in Spanish-American War "Rough Rider" Regiment

A Green River man served as a top non-commissioned officer in one of the three horse cavalry “Rough Rider” units created for the Spanish-American War in 1898.
 
Frank Kidd was First Sergeant of Company F, 2nd Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Jay F. Torrey of the Embar Ranch west of Thermopolis, known as “Torrey’s Rough Riders.” 
 
Congress authorized formation of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Volunteer Cavalry regiments for the war against Spain and called for outdoorsmen from the west to man them, including cowboys, blacksmiths, lawmen, miners, hunters, and Native Americans. The 1st Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Leonard Wood and Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, was dubbed the “Rough Riders” by the press, and the nickname carried over to the other regiments as well.
 
Of the 842 troopers in “Torrey’s Rough Riders,” nearly 600 were from Wyoming. Most of the men in Company E were from Weston, Sheridan, or Crook counties, Albany County provided men for G Company, and Company F was made up primarily by men from Sweetwater and Laramie Counties. Troopers from Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah also served in the regiment.
 
The regiment was officially formed at Fort D. A. Russell (now Warren Air Force Base) in Cheyenne in May, 1898. After a period of intensive training, the 2nd was ordered to Jacksonville, Florida, a staging area for troops enroute to Cuba. On June 26, however, the two trains carrying the troopers and their horses were involved in a major crash near Tupelo, Mississippi. Five men were killed and 15 were injured. After several days’ delay, the regiment finally arrived at Jacksonville, but the war ended before it could be deployed to Cuba.
 
Though it saw no combat, the regiment lost over 30 men to Typhoid fever in Jacksonville. With the war over, it returned to Fort D.A. Russell, were it was mustered out in October, 1898. 
 
In 1900, Kidd married Maria “Mayme” Viox, whose father owned a meat market on Railroad Avenue in Green River. Over the years, he served as town marshal, undersheriff of Sweetwater County, worked as a carpenter, and was also employed at the Post Office, now the home of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.
 
Frank Kidd died in 1954. Mayme lived to be 101, passing away in 1981. 

For more pictures, and fascinating history, follow the museum on Facebook.

 

Teno Roncalio - The Congressman from Rock Springs

A son of Italian immigrants, born and raised in Rock Springs, represented Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 years in five non-consecutive terms, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum said in an article released on Tuesday.
Teno Roncalio was born  Celeste Domenico Roncaglio on March 23, 1916, one of the nine children of Frank and Ernesta Roncaglio. (The family shortened “Roncaglio” to “Roncalio;” reportedly to make it easier to pronounce correctly on first sight. A young Celeste Domenico was nicknamed “Teno” by his classmates and it stuck.)
 
As were so many immigrants who settled in Rock Springs, Frank Roncalio was a coal miner. Teno entered the workforce at the age of five with a two-wheel pushcart, delivering produce. Not long afterward he took over a shoeshine stand at a local barber shop. By the age of 17, he had earned his state barber’s license. After high school, he worked for six years as a reporter for the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner. In 1938 he enrolled at the University of Wyoming in Journalism and Pre-Law.
To meet his college expenses at the University, Roncalio tended furnaces, shoveled snow, waited tables, and washed dishes at a Laramie boarding house. In his sophomore year he was elected student body president and served as business manager of The Branding Iron, the student newspaper.
 
An active Democrat from an early age, Roncalio caught the attention of U.S. Senator Joseph O’Mahoney of Cheyenne, who offered him a job in Washington DC. There Roncalio attended law school at night at the Catholic University of America.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Roncalio enlisted in the Army, completed officer training, and received his commission as a second lieutenant. Assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, he fought in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, and was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action during the battle for Omaha Beach on D-Day. He was honorably discharged with the rank of captain in 1946.
 
After returning to Wyoming and completing law school at the University of Wyoming, he established a law practice in Cheyenne and served as a deputy county attorney for the Laramie County Attorney’s Office.
In 1950, Roncalio became editor of the Wyoming Labor Journal and began his active political career. He was appointed chairman of the Wyoming State Democratic Party in 1957, and in 1961 newly-elected President John F. Kennedy named him Chairman of the U.S. International Joint Commission on U.S. and Canadian Waterways, a cabinet-level post.
 
Roncalio ran for U.S. Representative in 1964 and defeated the Republican incumbent, William Henry Harrison. Two years later, he ran for the open U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the retiring Republican Milward Simpson, but lost in the general election to Governor Cliff Hansen. In 1970, Roncalio ran again for Representative, and won. He was re-elected in 1972, 1974, and 1976. He left Congress in 1978.
 
Among his accomplishments in Congress was passage of 1977's Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and his work, along with Senators Gale McGee and Cliff Hansen, on legislation that increased from 37.5 percent to 50 percent Wyoming’s share of mineral royalties, which have, over the years, resulted in many millions of dollars in reclamation and royalty payments for Wyoming.
 
Arguably Rock Springs’s most prominent native son, he died in Cheyenne of heart failure on March 30, 2003, age 87. The U. S. Post Office on Commercial Way in Rock Springs is named for him, and an exhibit of Teno Roncalio memorabilia is on exhibit there.
For more pictures, and fascinating history, follow the museum on Facebook.