Strolling Through History in Downtown Cody
If buildings in Cody could talk, they’d tell stories of unsuccessful bank robberies, once-thriving mercantile businesses, enterprising hoteliers, unrelenting ghosts, frontier justice, time capsules and undying friendship.
On a fine spring day last week, I learned all about the legends and secrets of some of Cody’s oldest buildings after downloading a free app called TravelStorys. Created to provide Cody visitors with history and information about my town, the app offers an insightful 45-minute walking tour with short, entertaining stories that highlight independence of the town’s early settlers, including its founder, Buffalo Bill Cody.
Here are a few of my favorite stories.
Cody Country Visitor Center – The lodgepole pine building that anchors the end of Sheridan Ave. was the first home of the Buffalo Bill Museum. The sprawling, one-level building was built in 1927, 10 years after Buffalo Bill’s death, and it was modeled after Buffalo Bill’s home at the south fork of the Shoshone River, the TE Ranch. Museum collections were there until 1969, when they were relocated to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Today, the building houses the Cody Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, Cody Country Art League and Park County Travel Council.
Park County Courthouse – Built in 1912, the Park County Courthouse features a clock tower reminiscent of the one featured in “Back to the Future.” Manufactured by Seth Thomas, the clock was donated to the county by William Robertson Coe, a prominent resident. The clock originally featured a weight-driven mechanism, but was later wired for electricity. Through multiple renovations to the building, the clock has been faithfully preserved, to the delight of historians and clock-watchers everywhere.
Chamberlin Inn – Newly arrived from Kansas in 1904, Agnes Chamberlin opened a boarding house on the site of what is now a lovely boutique inn. Her husband helped boost the family income by opening an onsite dentist office without the bother of obtaining a license to practice or officially acquiring useful dental skills. With its prime downtown location and comfortable rooms, the Chamberlin Hotel was a popular home away from home for many visitors, including many celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, whose signature can still be seen on an ancient guest register. Chamberlin Inn today is an upscale boutique inn that features a popular conservatory where guests enjoy live music, spirits and food.
Carnegie Library – The building that is now home to Millstone Pizza stands as evidence of the powerful role frontier women played in development and growth of the town. In 1906, a group of female leaders, all members of the energetic Women’s Club of Cody built the town’s first small library. They later secured a significant contribution from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and expanded the original building. The original building suffered from termite damage and had to be destroyed, but an annex continued to serve as the book-lending hub of the town. The building was sold in 2008 when the library moved to a larger location. When renovations for the pizza restaurant were undertaken, workers discovered a time capsule containing photos of the original library, old coins and historical documents.
J.H. Vogel Building – Sometimes, the town’s entrepreneurs wore multiple hats, as was the case for John Vogel, whose brick building – current home of The Cowboy Palace – served as both furniture store and mortuary. Frontier shoppers would peruse tables and chairs in the front of the building while undertakers were working their embalming magic in the basement below. Mourners would visit their loved ones in a back room that was separated from the furniture store by just a curtain.
I see these buildings every day and am so glad we can share their history with our Cody visitors.
Until next time, I’m getting in my daily steps and loving life here in Cody Yellowstone.