National Designation Sought for Laramie Neighborhood

November 10, 2008

The aged homes, the mature trees, the vintage architecture.

To Mary Humstone, the well-kept residential district near the University of Wyoming campus belongs on the National Register of Historic Places.

And, soon, it may be.

The six students in Humstone's historic preservation class this fall are putting the finishing touches on an extensive application that, if approved, would add a 24-block area south of the campus, excluding UW property, to the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation.

"The students have been out surveying houses and, in some cases, they might knock on the door and ask the owner some questions or the owner might come out and say, ‘What are you doing taking photographs of my house?'" says Humstone, a research scientist in the UW American Studies Program. "What they've found is that most of the property owners are interested in the history of the house and really see this as an area of historical significance in Laramie."

Before submitting a nomination to the national registry, Humstone's students will present their findings Thursday, Nov. 13, during a public meeting from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Albany County Library, 310 S. 8th St. The draft nomination will be submitted to the Albany County Historic Preservation Board, which will make the submission to the State Historic Preservation Office in Cheyenne.

All property owners who live in the designated residential district, which includes about 200 buildings between University Avenue and Custer Street, from 6th to 15th streets, received invitations to the meeting. The public is also welcome.

"I think there's a lot of residents who are really interested, in a good way, about what we're doing," says Hilery Walker, a graduate student from Casper and a third-generation Wyomingite who takes great pride in the state's history. "They know they're living in an old house, but they don't know much about the history of the house. Now we'll be able to fill in some of the blanks for them."

The designated area features homes built mostly from 1900-1940 and includes iconic structures such as the Ivinson Mansion, the John Conley House and the Lehman-Tunnel House. The oldest building, on 10th Street, was constructed in 1870.

The goals of the project, sponsored by the Albany County Historic Preservation Board, are to represent the history of Laramie and to get UW students involved in the community, Humstone says.

"All of the residents have been really friendly and some of them have even shared information about the house. If they see me taking pictures, they usually come out and say, ‘I'm just curious, what are you doing?'" says Helis Sikk, a graduate student from Estonia who has been in the United States only since August.

But, amazingly, Sikk is likely to know more about the rich past of this residential district than many longtime residents of Laramie.

"Since I've only been here for three months, Laramie is basically the United States that I know and I want to know more," she says. "This has been a nice chance to learn about Laramie and its history, plus I'm really interested in architecture."

Through the project, Humstone hopes her students can help teach residents about the significance of the historic district and encourage them to continue to maintain the homes.

"This neighborhood is already noted for its trees, but it also deserves recognition for its historical associations with the University of Wyoming and for its diverse architecture," Humstone says. "This district has been home to university presidents, deans, faculty, coaches and students for more than a century, and that tradition continues today. This project has given students an opportunity to really study their own community and they're looking forward to sharing what they've learned with residents."

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