When you drop off a letter in the outside mailboxes in the post office alley, look to your right to see one of Laramie’s oldest residences.
There was a time when it was so sorry looking that it didn’t deserve a sideways glance. But its exterior has been rejuvenated and proudly displays its historic heritage now.
This house, at 407 University Ave., became the home of Charles and Roena Hutton by 1872. They might have had it built that year, though some estimates are it was built in about 1870. Either way, it is definitely one of Laramie’s oldest.
The Huttons had been living on the Laramie Plains since at least 1865, making them among the earliest people to put down roots here.
Charles Hutton (1832-1899) had probably been here even earlier. Canadian-born, he migrated to the western frontier when it still was a frontier, making his living as a “freighter” driving ox teams for an Omaha entrepreneur named Ed Creighton.
Charles Hutton and Roena Wilcox (1835-1888) had married in 1859 at Roena’s home town of Anamosa, in east-central Iowa. Being a foreman for Creighton no doubt took Hutton far from home. Creighton’s crews built the telegraph line through the Laramie Plains in 1861. Later they did grading work for the Union Pacific Railroad, in addition to Creighton’s regular freighting service along the Overland Trail. Very likely Charles Hutton was part of Creighton’s work force in 1861 and possibly before.
The stories Hutton told Roena and her family about the fertile Laramie Plains must have been persuasive because in 1865, her parents joined the Huttons for the trek west. They traveled by ox team across all of Nebraska to the Big Laramie River. They settled on what they called the “Old Home Ranch” 9 miles north of what is now Laramie.
There was no one here to buy the land from, so they were essentially squatters. It must have been a somewhat primitive and isolated existence. We don’t know what became of her parents, though ads for a shop operated by “L.T. Wilcox” does turn up in the Laramie newspapers from 1870-1872, and there is an early station stop on the UPRR in Albany County by that name.
In 1866, the year after the Huttons arrived, Fort Sanders was built 3 miles south of where Laramie City would be located (in 1868). Hutton had a contract to supply meat to the many hungry soldiers.
As Hutton’s cattle ranching paid off, he tried operating a meat market in Laramie — “Hutton & Co.” is listed in the Laramie City Directory for 1870. However, by June 14 of that year, the newspaper announced the dissolution of the partnership of C. Hutton and Ora Haley, with the firm to continue with Haley alone.
It could be that Roena demanded a house in town, or Hutton realized that they couldn’t continue squatting on land they didn’t own. So, by 1872, Hutton arranged for the house in Laramie where Roena would live the rest of her life. But Charles Hutton was determined to have a ranch. In a partnership with his former employer, Creighton, he was eventually able to purchase land south and west of Laramie. He went on a land buying spree, and could usually be found at his ranch, though he spent enough time in Laramie to be very well known in town.
When he was at the house in town with his wife and child (George L. Hutton is listed as the surviving son in Roena’s 1888 obituary), their house was not located where it is now. Instead, the address was 110 S. Fourth St., where Hunter Hall on the Cathedral block is now located.
By April 1920, the Episcopal Church of Laramie had gained ownership of all the properties on the whole city block where St. Matthew’s Cathedral now stands. The church successfully petitioned to have the city council vacate the city-owned alley that had been platted on that block, and set about moving all the buildings that remained, including the former Hutton house (both Huttons had passed away by then).
Originally, the Hutton house had its long axis parallel to the street. But when the Morris company of Denver moved it a block away to a narrow lot on the north side of University Ave., they couldn’t reorient it. So, now what had been the side of the house became the front, and the partial front porch goes along the alley instead of along the street.
For many years, the house was covered with gray siding that could have been asbestos shingles. Tenants of the apartments the home had been converted to didn’t always show the kind of respect a proud old lady deserves. It did obtain a metal roof at some point, but it had none of the pizzazz that typifies Victorian architecture.
However, recently, Advantage Realty of Laramie spruced it up, it has a new owner, and it is wearing its age well with painted stucco siding and bright red trim. The multi-gable retro-Victorian home design is back in style, but this one is the real thing. It sports eight gables, (counting the three dormers and a pediment on the porch), a steep pointed roof, two prominent bay windows and the tall narrow windows that are hallmarks of Victorian design.
It deserves a second glance.
Editor’s note: This was written for the Albany County Museum Coalition that promotes interest in local cultural and natural history. Judy Knight is collection manager at the Laramie Plains Museum.