ROCK SPRINGS CITY HALL
Municipal buildings are traditionally located in the center of a community and provide visual evidence of the strength and permanence of the town. The old City Hall in Rock Springs was built with just such a purpose in mind.
Located at the corner of Broadway and B Street in the historic downtown, this issue's featured National Register building is an imposing stone structure built in a style known as Richardsonian Romanesque. This style is named for Henry Hobson Richardson and is characterized by a uniform rock-faced exterior finish, large arched entries without columns and short, squat towers and chimneys. Its appearance is massive and muscular and echoes the coloring of the country around it. This is hardly surprising due to the fact that the sandstone for the building was quarried at a site two and a half miles southwest of town.
From early beginnings in the 1860s as a station on the Overland Trail and rough and ready coal town, Rock Springs had grown into a proper community by the late 1880s and was incorporated as a town in 1888. As part of this step in becoming a town, the citizens of Rock Springs decided they needed a building to house their new government center.
Information in the National Register nomination of the property indicates that the process of making these decisions was not without contention. “Newspaper accounts stress the need for a city hall stating that the expected cost of $12,000 to $15,000 could be raised from annual liquor license sales. Several unsolicited plans were forwarded by council members including a pressed brick building that would have offered a council chamber, reading room, gymnasium, two rooms for the fire department, justice court room, five lock-up rooms and a large hall on the second floor. Controversy flared in the papers over the years until the citizens voted to fund the building of a city hall in 1893.”
Land for the building was purchased from the Union Pacific Coal Company and the town council chose the building plans submitted by Martin Didicus Kern of Salt Lake City.
Kern was a prominent architect during the Salt Lake City building boom of 1889-1892. He and his partner William Carrol designed forty-five major projects in 1890 alone. The partnership dissolved in 1892 and Kern had disappeared from the business by 1898.
When work began on the building in April of 1894 it soon became apparent that the plans for the foundation were insufficient when unstable soil conditions were discovered. The problem was solved by the placement of the building on a massive fourteen foot foundation. The remainder of the construction went smoothly and the building was occupied by city government in 1895.
The total cost of the building was $29,000. There being insufficient funds in the previously established city hall building fund, the remainder was made up when newly elected Rock Springs mayor William K. Lee added all of the money paid to the city for saloon licenses.
It was fortunate that the building was completed when it was, because it served as a temporary hospital when the two and a half year old Wyoming State Miner's Hospital burned down in 1897.
The building continued to house city government until late 1978 when many of the city services relocated to the current city hall. In 1982 the last remaining city office, the Police Department, left the building. The structure was added to the National Register in 1983.
When the city celebrated its centennial in 1988 and group of community members came together to make the building into a museum of Rock Springs history. It existed as a volunteer organization until the museum was temporarily closed in 1991 and '92 while the building underwent an extensive two million dollar rehabilitation funded by an Abandoned Mine Lands grant.
The historic City Hall building continues to operate as the home of the Rock Springs Historical Museum and occupies an important place in both the physical and emotional heart of downtown.
Last Updated April 2005
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