Of the many occupants of the 1888 historic house at 620 S. Seventh St. in Laramie, its longest resident was Martha Stickney, who lived there for 33 years. This Missouri native (1842-1932) had three husbands; she was twice widowed and once divorced.

Though her husbands may not have left Martha with much, she turned out to be a good steward of what she did have. After being widowed a second time in 1913, she financed mortgages, conducting business from her home.

A glance through land records of Albany County in the years from 1913 until her death show that Mrs. Stickney was occasionally listed as a mortgage holder. There were a few legal notices in the Laramie paper announcing a property foreclosure she instigated.

First occupants

In 1888 the house at Seventh and Sheridan was a grand dwelling on a corner lot with a commanding presence. At the time, Laramie had been expanding south. The block just north was completely occupied, and Sheridan Street had been platted all the way to 10th Street.

The first occupant was W. J. Hills, an attorney who figures in Laramie history only briefly, from 1888 to 1892. He owned the house when it was featured in sketches of prominent Laramie buildings surrounding a city map published around 1890. Hills married Kate Willett; apparently the couple left Laramie, settling in Oregon.

Next occupant was Albinus A. Johnson, a Cheyenne Methodist minister who was elected by the trustees as the second UW President (1891-1896), requiring him to resign from the trustees and move to Laramie. Johnson succeeded former Wyoming Territorial Governor, John W. Hoyt.

Johnson was a voting member and President of the UW trustees when selected. He steered UW ably through some financial problems and toward a higher level of academics.

However, he had to deal with the trustee’s “secretary” Grace Raymond Hebard, who was not averse to taking full charge of the UW administration — she may have played a role in Johnson’s request to be replaced, though he politely did not say so when resigning.

Ironically, the current owner of the Seventh St. house is a shirt-tail relative of Albinus Johnson. He was current owner Dr. Jean Garrison’s great-great-great grandmother’s first cousin. Currently, Dr. Garrison is professor of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies at UW.

“You have to go back many generations to find a grandparent we had in common,” said Dr. Garrison, “I didn’t know that when I bought the house, but it’s all laid out in an 1898 family tree I have.”

A Second Empire house

Called Second Empire, the house represents the second of the many different romantic borrowings characterizing American Victorian style. The first was Gothic Revival, seen in the Caldwell/Knight house now at 320 S. 10th St. Curiously, that house was lifted and rotated 90 degrees. It faced Grand when built around 1872.

Next in chronological order was Second Empire. This style was named for Napoleon III (1852-1870), the last French monarch. A French architect of an earlier era, Francois Mansart, (or Mansard) often used a steep hip roof design that now bears his name. It is the one feature that makes this style so different from any other Victorian style.

Second Empire became popular during Grant’s presidency. Typical is the Executive Office Building (EOB) finished in 1888. Sitting next to the White House, it is probably the largest American building in the style. President Truman, serving at a time when all things Victorian were under-appreciated, called the EOB the “greatest monstrosity in America.” But it survived proposed demolition, becoming a national historic landmark in 1969.

Anyone who has traveled through the Midwest should recognize Second Empire in local courthouses — many were being built between 1869 and 1890, the heydays of the style. The first Albany County courthouse begun in 1872 had some Second Empire features, as did the new Laramie Flour Mill, built at the same time as the Seventh Street house — both now demolished.

If at all possible, Second Empire buildings incorporated a square tower, itself complete with a mansard roof. The Seventh St. house is no exception — when it was built in 1888, it did include a central tower, now removed, along with the rooftop iron balustrades. But remaining are the typical tall, narrow windows with rounded arches at the top, and a flat roof that is nearly hidden by the practically vertical mansard roof that reaches halfway down the second story.

Stories abound

Dr. Garrison says that the house had been a rental for many years when she bought it in 2005, requiring much remodeling to remove the second floor apartment. When she was outside, people would stop to talk, complimenting her on the restoration. They would also tell her stories about the house which once featured a front entry ramp to accommodate resident Max Shevick, who used a wheelchair.

The most unusual story centered on the mansard-roofed carriage house behind the house.

“Some people told me that when a circus came to town, the bull elephant had to be separated from the females, so they walked the male to the carriage house. Not many Laramie residents can claim they housed an elephant once,” said Garrison. “I’m told it was in the 1950s, when the circus came by train.”

The backyard also still has the stables along the back alley, and an outhouse was there too. Horses could have been kept on site; the four bedroom house might have required servants at one time.

Others have told her that her house was built from faulty brick created in Laramie. They give that as the reason for the stucco siding that now covers it. Bricks made in Laramie in the early days often reveal that problem. Weathering caused the surface to slough off, so paint or a stucco covering was needed to hold it in place.

Unfortunately, we don’t know when stucco plaster was applied to the exterior brick walls of the 1888 home. Brickmaking at the Territorial Penitentiary had stopped and the new brickworks were reported in the newspaper as starting in 1884; presumably when the managers knew more about how to fire clay bricks properly to prevent the surface weathering that spoiled the reputation of earlier Laramie brick makers.

There are stories of itinerant “plasterers” taking advantage of Laramie’s numerous gypsum plaster mills in the 1920s and 1930s. They would go door to door, offering to add stucco that never needed painting, to any Laramie building at low cost — stucco might have been added to the Stickney house then.

Garrison says there are photos showing the house with the tower, but none that were taken shortly after its removal. So the date that was done is unknown.

“We still have the door to the tower stairs that were removed,” said Garrison. “I added a ladder and the roof deck. It was stucco on the outside and plaster on the inside — we found it when drilling to open the door back up.”

Another Second Empire home in Laramie has also lost its tower — the Durlacher house at 501 S. Fifth St. The most likely reason for removal in each case was to update the style, not faulty construction.

Another sad loss is the exterior wrought iron which was a ground level fence around the property, and a decorative balustrade on the top of the second floor and the tower.

Martha Stickney

Researching long-time resident Martha Wells Terrell Bramel Stickney has proven to be tricky but worth the effort to document this remarkable Laramie woman. She was born in 1842 in the town of Savannah, Mo., in the state’s northwest corner — the oldest of five children.

It appears that Martha Wells married Missourian Warner Terrell in 1861. Their names were misspelled as “Mills” and “Turell,” making the search challenging. He died around 1868, leaving her with two young children according to the 1870 census: Charles Terrell, age five, and Warner Terrell, age three. At the time she was “keeping house” for her bachelor brother William, a grocer in Nodaway, also in northwestern Missouri.

It is through the two boys that Martha was located next, in Laramie. She is listed in the 1880 U.S. census as the wife of Charles W. Bramel, an attorney born about 1841 in Missouri — likely they met and married there.

C.E. Chaplin says Bramel co-owned the Laramie Independent paper in 1875 when Chaplin worked for him. State Archivist Kathy Marquis located the book Law in the West, which mentions Martha Bramel. It quotes her as testifying about her husband’s alcoholism saying: “Martha Bramel, the wife of a divorce lawyer, Charles Bramel, testified that his drinking had incapacitated him to such an extent that she could no longer trust him as her agent. ‘I managed my own business,’ she declared.” A bank cashier testified that she spoke truthfully.

Presumably a divorce was granted sometime after the 1880 U.S. census. In that census, her name was given as Martha E. Bramel, age 38, and they were a family of eight that included four Bramel children (Annie, 15; Maude, 13; Charles W., 11; and Burleigh, 9) and her two boys, ages 16 and 13. They lived at 406 S. Fourth St.

We don’t know what happened to his first wife, but after Martha was granted a divorce and had remarried, the 1900 census shows Bramel as the district judge and married at age 60 to a 25-year-old, Luanna J. Bramel. She became his widow in 1907 when he was shot and killed by an angry client in his law office, as described by Kim Viner in the story “1907 Murder Suicide Shocks Laramie” on the website of the Albany County Historical Society.

Martha and her third spouse, David N. Stickney, were married in Colorado Springs in 1893. He was 30 and she about 51. D.N. Stickney had been superintendent of schools in Rawlins, later moved to Saratoga and was involved in mining, but it appears that shortly before their marriage he moved to Laramie. She was Martha E. Bramel on the marriage certificate.

They lived in the 620 S. Seventh St. house at least by 1899. In the 1900 U.S. census, D.N. Stickney lists his occupation as stockgrower, and Martha’s son Warner Terrell is living with them, along with several other unrelated people; they may have taken in boarders as well.

The Stickneys had ranch property west of town, and there was a slaughterhouse there. He became active in community affairs, sang with the Maennechor Society, and was a Stockgrowers Association official.

From 1910 to 1913, both Martha and David Stickney operated the Albany Merc. Co., in downtown Laramie. They advertised heavily in the Laramie papers after the grand opening on Feb. 1, 1910, with him as president, she as treasurer.

But on June 1, 1913, David Stickney died of kidney failure at age 50 after a short illness. His obituary states that he was born and educated in Canada and became certified as a teacher there, then was hired by the Rawlins school district. He studied law in Laramie and was admitted to the bar but did not practice, becoming a rancher instead, and ran for Secretary of State as in 1902. Though he lost, he continued to be active in politics and in 1910 he ran for the Wyoming Legislature at the same time Mary Bellamy was running, and both Democrats won.

After her husband’s death, Martha Stickney closed the business—she sold most of the store fixtures to someone in Bosler. Several legal announcements in the Laramie newspapers in the 1920s say “Martha E. Stickney, formerly Martha E. Bramel” is involved in transactions having to do with real estate.

A courageous woman who experienced several traumatic events in her life, she was survived by three grandchildren including Mrs. Samuel (Mary Jane) Harrell of Laramie. She died at age 90 and was buried as requested, in her hometown of Savannah, Missouri.

Judy Knight is the collection manager of the Laramie Plains Museum. Articles in the history series are archived on the webite of the Albany County Historical Society, wyoachs.com.

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