Rock Springs
Historic Photos

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Fire Brigade, Rock Springs, Approx. 1900

The above scene is directly in front of the Union Pacific Depot on South Main, see picture lower on page. Note false fronts on the second, third and fourth buildings from the right. The fourth building, with the sign braced on the top of facade, is J.P. McDermott Co. Past the building with the gable is the Pacific Market.

Rock Springs originally was merely a way station on Ben Holladay's Overland Stage Line after the line was moved south in 1862 to avoid Indians. As a town it received its start in 1868 when the Railroad arrived.

The town was described in a letter dated 1876 written by Mabel Hubbard to her future husband Alexander Graham Bell:

We are stopping now at a coal station, and have come upon the first signs of life except the miserable little house that adjoins the wood stations. There are coal mines around, on the hills on my left I see smoke rising out from the hills, it is a mine or fire, nearer us smoke rises from some tall chimneys of manufacturing buildings, we have come to the first busy looking place for many a long mile but the houses are all of the poorest description and look temporary. There is no appearance of home about them as there was in even cold and dreary Lamarie. There the land is cultivable and settlers have made homes there, here the fetid water's make mans stay here one of necessity never of choice.

O how I wish you were here you would enjoy it all so much, the wild scene -- not the living!!. Our party is reduced to it's usual size again except for the presence of Dr. -- Superintendent of Mints of the United States.

When you write to your Mother please give her my love and tell her I want to write to her but cannot do so very well in the cars. The houses of the miners are built in an abrupt ravine, the walls of which form one of the sides of their houses. The roofs and sometimes a window project above the surface of the ground -- the roofs are covered with dried earth and clay, and the whole settlement has such a queer appearance. Just now a "heaten Chinee" passed us trudging laboriously along with a big piece of raw meat at one end of a long branch he carries over his shoulder and a heavy sack on the other end. We have come to the region of chinamen. The valley around us is so queer flat with sudden fissures running through it. The ground is covered with bunches of the sagebush. Just now a pure white mountain rises up over the rock hills around us, sharp and white against the blue sky recalling the Jung'frau in it's shape and sharp stern purity. Rock Creek is the name of the mining station we have left, hills near us grow more and more peculiar in their formation at their base are rounded pillar-like protuberances.

[Webmaster's note: It appears likely that Miss Hubbard miswrote. The letter was written in a palace car on the Union Pacific heading west between Bitter Creek and Salt Lake. The letter indicated that the quoted portion was written before reaching Green River. Rock Creek is in Albany County some distance east of Bitter Creek in Sweetwater County. Additionally, the railroad did not reach Rock Creek until 1878, two years following the letter.]

North Front Street, 1915

The building on the corner is the Labor Temple and bears the date 1914 on the pediment.

As indicated by the next scenes below depicting the welcoming arch on the Lincoln Highway as it enters town from either end, coal has been important since the arrival of the railroad. Coal mining began in the territory on a small, non-commercial scale about 1860. The first large scale commercial mines opened in 1868 in Carbon, now a ghost town, about 14 miles west of Medicine Bow. At one time Carbon had a population of about 3,000 residents, a state bank, newspaper and seven active mines. The Town's fate was sealed, first by a fire in 1890 which was stopped only by dynamiting buildings and secondly, by the relocation of the railroad through Hanna in 1899. The relocation was prompted by the finding of a route which avoided the six-mile grade at Simpson Hill and the necessity of double-heading the locomotives. By 1902 Carbon was abandoned and nothing remains except the cemetary and a few sandstone foundations.

Arch, approx. 1928

Arch, approx. 1938

With the mines also came labor strife. In 1875, the English ("Lankies") and Swedish miners went on strike. The railroad brought in Chinese miners to break the strike. Resentment as a result and in addition to the willingness of the Chinese to work for less continued until it boiled over on September 2, 1885, when word was received that Colorado miners were receiving a pay raise but the ones in Rock Springs were not. The Lankies and the Swedish miners, most of whom were members of the militant Knights of Labor under the leadership of Terence Powderly (1849-1924) rose up, burned the homes of approximately 75 Chinese families, 28 Chinese were killed and 15 wounded. The Chinese fled toward Green River and were rescued by the Union Pacific. Federal troops were brought in to restore order and remained in Rock Springs until 1898. Although the Knights of Labor supported the Chinese Exclusion Act, the United Mine Workers took a different attitude and by 1908, Chinese were attending UMWA meetings in Rock Springs.

Rock Springs, however, was not the only mining town in the west in which Chinese miners were forcibly ejected from their homes and work. In January 1886, in Maiden, Montana, masked, armed miners "escorted" Chinese out of town, allowing them to send the next day for their belongings. The [Maiden] Mineral Argus congratulated its readers on the peaceful manner in which the Chinese were excluded.

Wyoming General Hospital (the "Miners' Hospital"), Rock Springs, 1908

Upon admission to the Union on July 10, 1890, the State received, among others, a 30,000 acre land grant to be used for the construction and operations of the Miners' Hospital. In the 1892 election Rock Springs was designated as the location. The cornerstone was laid on December 2, 1893, by members of Rock Springs Lodge Lodge No. 12, A.F. & A.M. History of Masonry and other fraternal orders is discussed in Cheyenne III as a part of text relating to fraternal lodges in Cheyenne. In 1901 the one-story nurses' dormitory was added. Two story additions were added to the main structure in 1932 and 1940. The Hospital was transferred to Sweetwater County in 1948. The Hospital now known as Memorial Hospital was moved to its current location on College Drive in 1973.

Rock Springs Depot, 1922

Compare above scene with earlier view above. The spire is the 1894 City Hall now housing the Rock Springs Museum.

South Front Street, 1920's

In the 1920's Rock Springs even though it had a population of over 9,000, paved streets, street lights, and a movie palace, did not leave much of an impression on some visitors. James Montgomery Flagg, described his honeymoon stay:

Freight engines screamed and tooted around the little hotel at Rock Springs all night long, as if warning the guests not to come out onto the tracks in their pyjamas. I found out why Maclyn Arbuckle said, after a night in one of this town's few hostelries, that he had discovered why it was called Rock Springs!

Webmaster's note: My bride's remembrance of Rock Springs is her first trip to Wyoming, a rather "bumpy" ride, coming into Rock Springs on the "Vomit Comet."