Dreams Really Do Come True: The Story of the Ivinson Mansion
By Mary Mountain
NOTE: The following describes how the storied Ivinson Mansion in Laramie, Wyoming, was saved and became the treasured Laramie Plains Museum that preserves important aspects of both Laramie’s and Wyoming’s history. The mission of the Laramie Plains Museum Association is similar to the current mission of the Historic Stanley Home Foundation which is to preserve F.O. and Flora Stanley’s historic home as a museum and education center.
Every time I enter the Laramie Plains Museum, Laramie’s extraordinary historic house museum to open exhibits for visiting publics to view Wyoming’s fascinating history, I am reminded of those who dreamed this dream more than 50 years ago. I am grateful for and inspired by each one of them.
In 1966 Laramie finally formed a Museum Association. Artifacts had been stored in boxes at the courthouse, in Woman’s Club members’ closets, and at City Hall. None of those were satisfactory places for the special history residents had sheltered as they dreamed of a museum for decades. The new Association used a member’s home to set up shop for a while, but the house, in the University District, was awkward for displays and parking.
The dreamers were still dreaming anyway: some of them saw the dilapidated historic mansion of pioneering citizens Edward and Jane Ivinson, and sighed that a full city block of Laramie’s history was to be razed for modern apartments and contractors’ purses. After its majestic 19th Century life as a Queen Anne Victorian, then its lively and poignant 40 years as a Girls School, the Church who owned it could no longer keep up with the needy historic property and it slowly descended into a decade of ruin. Passersby saw only a gutted shell of the former opulence. The dreamers, however, saw grandeur and accommodating spaces. They could actually picture history being told in this precious artifact of the early days.
They envisioned telling the story of how this railroad city came to life and thrived because of the unexpected English couple who arrived on the first train, built businesses and churches and this home, and ultimately developed this majestic property as a centerpiece to this town on the high plains of Wyoming.
As I see our docents tell the stories of our community with guided tours—from a personalized tour for just one, to 15 visitors or classroom students at a time—I know our dreamers, who held the first bake sale to raise funds and awareness, are smiling. 46 years ago, as longsuffering volunteers held their vision against the naysayers, moving artifacts into the barely alive Ivinson home, cleaning and salvaging so that history could be celebrated.
As one of those early fundraising mothers was approaching her 90th birthday, almost 40 years after helping save the historic property, she asked, “Did we do the right thing? Should we have saved the mansion or has it been an albatross around the necks of museum boards and small, almost-volunteer staffs, trying to keep it alive, restored, and promoting history?”
For our community and our state, they did the right thing. Our visitors, from all over the world, are most charmed that we can tell the family’s story as a backdrop to Laramie and Wyoming’s history. Our community loves and supports this historic property with events on the Ivinson property expected and renowned in the region. We can’t imagine not having this showpiece of our community, attracting tourists, scholars, schools and new dreamers wanting to keep history alive and well.
Not only are those original dreamers smiling, but the Ivinsons who first envisioned a fine community as they stepped off that first train, must be happy that their home showcases the history that they helped to create.
Please join us in preserving and celebrating the life and accomplishments of F.O and Flora Stanley by supporting the mission of the Historic Stanley Home Foundation to purchase, renovate, preserve and operate Rockside, the F.O. Stanley home, as the Historic Stanley Home Museum and Education Center. To learn more or find out how you can be a part of this important effort, please visit the Historic Stanley Home Foundation website at www.stanleyhome.org or Like Us on Facebook at https://
www.facebook.com/historicstanleyhome. You can also call Tom Shamburg at 970-590-9468 for more information.
Mary Mountain is Executive Director of the Laramie Plains Museum in Laramie, Wyoming; http://www.laramiemuseum.org.