At more than 100 years old, the horse barn that stands at the Wyoming Territorial Prison has endured its share of Wyoming wind and winters.
This spring, the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site is in the midst of an exterior renovation designed to return the building to its original appearance while repairing deteriorating siding and woodwork.
“One of the biggest challenges here on this site is keeping these historic structures not only looking nice, but keeping the integrity of the structure intact,” said Superintendent Deborah Amend.
The structure was constructed in 1910 when the University of Wyoming operated the site as an agricultural experiment station, also called the stock farm.
According to a report written in May 1910 called “The Ranchman’s Reminder,” the barn was built with an emphasis on “utility and practicability.” It housed the station’s Percheron draft horses while also containing a stock judging room, office and carriage house. The upstairs level was used as a hay loft.
Outside, the structure was described as “drab in color,” with white trim, red brick chimneys and a black roof.
“This is the primary-source documentation that we are using to restore the barn back to its original look in 1910,” Amend said of the report.
A June 1910 annual report described it as a “commodious structure.”
Amend said the stock farm used horses in its farming operations until the 1940s, so for those decades the structure carried out its original purpose.
“The building was built to show farmers and ranchers in Wyoming the new, modern barns that they could build, and the new technology that was available to increase their production and enhance their ranching operations,” she said.
The prison was built in 1872 and served as such until closing in 1903, when it was given to UW. It was used as a farm until 1989, and in 2004 it became a state historic site.
These days, the horse barn’s main level houses a permanent exhibit devoted to the site’s farm years. An addition on the west side of the barn serves as a gallery space for rotating exhibits. The upstairs level serves as a classroom for visiting school groups and is also available for theater productions, meetings and parties.
The building is currently blue, before that it was white, and much of the paint is cracked or peeling. Amend said historians aren’t sure when it was painted either time, but their aim is to return its original look.
“We have a duty to make sure that our historic buildings are not only kept in good repair and they are interpreted correctly to the time period when they are being built, but part of that is when we do repairs, we bring it back to its original look as much as we can,” she said.
That means historians had to figure out what “drab in color” meant in the first description of the barn. As it turns out, drab was the color — something similar to tannish-grey, or perhaps today’s greige.
“It was the color of the era,” Amend said.
In addition to repairing and painting the siding, the project includes repairing the barn’s windows. A historic-preservation company based in Fort Collins, Colorado, called Wattle and Daub, is doing the work.
Currently, the windows are having their nails removed and replaced with wooden pegs, which were used in the initial construction. The original wood will be strengthened with an epoxy injection, and then the windows will be reinstalled with glass panes. Many windows had been boarded up when the interior was renovated. The aim is to preserve as much of the original material as possible.
“It’s that attention to detail that will allow this building to stay intact for many, many years,” Amend said.
With a roof that was replaced in 2010, the barn will be returned to its early appearance when the project is completed in May.
“From the outside, minus the steps, the outside will hopefully look like it did in 1910 when the building was completed,” Amend said.
Funding for the project, estimated to cost $125,000, came from the state of Wyoming as well as the Wyoming Territorial Park Historic Association, which supports events and projects at the site.
Amend said the barn’s initial job was to educate, and it’s working in that same capacity today.
“This building is still teaching after all these years,” she said.