Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis

The history of downtown


March 14, 2017

The other day one of my readers stopped me, said he’d enjoyed my columns about gas stations, and suggested that I write about the history of Worland’s downtown. I was immediately intrigued, although knowing that a discussion about property owned over the last 110 years in downtown Worland represented a bigger project than my columns about gas stations.

For such an undertaking, the first thing you have to find is a good source of information. The Worland newspapers, starting with the Worland Grit (which began publishing in December, 1906), and then on to the Northern Wyoming Daily News (1938), would be helpful. So, too, would some of the writings about early Worland, including the history of Washakie County by Ray Pendergraft.

For businesses extant, say, past 1945, you could interview some of the older residents of the town. But the best source would be the property records of the Washakie County Clerk, because for every lot in every part of Worland, the county clerk has a complete list of every owner between 1906 and today. Going through these records and determining the chain of ownership, however, would represent a big project for each lot, and the plat of the Original Town (encompassing most of the downtown) contains 127 lots, by my count.

Fortunately, there is a source of data, a treasury of information about the Original Town lots, which contains a full history of all the ownership of all the lots in downtown Worland. About ten years ago, the Washakie County Historic Preservation Commission put together a mountain of material about historic Worland, and I’ve gained access to that information. So, I decided that I’ll give it a try, putting together at least a couple of columns about the history of downtown Worland, and see how the project plays out.

I got a map of the original townsite of Worland and just arbitrarily started studying Block 3, which is the northern part of Big Horn Avenue between about Fifth Street and Sixth Street (then known as Arnott Street). I’ll start from the lots furthest west, and proceed to the east. Lots 8 – 11 have formed a unit from the beginning; their first owner was O. C. Morgan in 1908. The property then went to Robert W. Orchard, thence to the Yale Oil Corporation, to Carter Oil Company, to Exxon, and a little later to Jerry Alexander (his father, Faye, first leased a gas station from Esso). Of course, there were more conveyances after that, and most of this property, containing the old service station, is an Edward Jones office.

The next property to the east is Lot 12 of Block 3. This land began with A. G. Rupp (the publisher of the Worland Grit), and stayed with the Rupp family until the middle 1980s. Jerry Alexander was also part of this chain, but in 1986 the property was conveyed to Larry and Margaret Johnson, and is still owned by them. “Margaret” Johnson is the famous “Maggie,” of Maggie’s Place.

The next property due east (Lot 13) was the home of the Rustic Bar, which burned down, I think in the late 1980s. A number of notable names are associated with this property. One is Mileva Muskovich, whom I always knew as “Ma,” a colorful lady who was a friend of my grandmother’s. Another, in the 1970s and early 1980s, was Dennis Yule, a classmate of mine at Worland High School. Jerry Alexander again made a brief appearance, for a couple of years in the 1980s.

Lot 14 was used as a restaurant for many years, and, I think, too, as a bar for a while. It ended up being owned by John Christensen, who owned an antique business and conducted his operation out of the building. He died a few years ago and I don’t know whether his family still owns the property.

Well, I’m discovering as I’m writing this column that I’m already pushing my word limit and still have a lot to talk about, including the whole Little Chicago/Firenze complex and the Washakie Trading Company/Ben Franklin building.

In my next column I’ll tell you all about the remainder of the properties in the southern part of Block 3.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is retired. He is the author of several books.


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