Rededicating the Ames Monument
By Anna Lee Frohlich
On Nov. 26, 1882 a group of people stood on the top of Sherman Hill above the Union Pacific railroad town of Sherman, Wyoming. They were there, braving the cold, to
honor and dedicate the recently finished Ames Monument which was on the pass between Cheyenne and Laramie.They stood at the base of the 60-foot-high pyramid shaped monument.
The monument had been designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. It was decorated with 9-foot-high likenesses by sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens of two men who had been instrumental in the building of the Union Pacific Railroad, Oakes and Oliver Ames.
St.Gaudens’ first job as a young man had been carving tiny cameos, so it was unusual that now he was designing these huge medallions. He designed these works as plaster macquettes. Then they had been carved out of Longmeadow Brownstone by the firm of Evans and Tombs in Boston. Though brownstone was a favorite medium of St. Gauden’s for his carvings, it proved to be unsuited for the carved medallions on Sherman Hill. The stone is relatively soft and has been badly treated over the years by weather and vandals. Because of the softness of the stone, repairs to the medallions are not feasible.
The monument had first been conceived by the board of the Union Pacific to honor Oakes Ames, chief financier of the railroad. Later, when his brother Oliver died, Oliver’s name and likeness were added to the monument as well. Oakes’ son Oliver (later governor of Massachusetts) took a trip to Wyoming to see the carving of his father and did not like it at all. Back in Massachusetts word got to H. H. Richardson about Oliver’s opinion. Richardson sent a letter saying that he could have St. Gaudens redo the medallion but that Oliver would have to pay for it.
For this reason, though the remainder of the cost of the monument was paid for by the Union Pacific Railroad, the bust of Oakes was the one part that was paid for separately.
Now the crowd, including representatives of the press from around the country, was there to honor the Ames brothers and the completion of the mammoth Ames Monument.
135 years later the monument is about to be rededicated. After eight years of effort by it’s supporters, the National Park Service declared it a National Historic Landmark. Securing this status was no easy feat, and has required the efforts of a number of people. On Sept. 28, 2008 a small group of western history buffs from the Denver area were treated to a tour of the Ames Monument and the surrounding area by Larry Ostresh of Laramie. One of those in the tour was Anna Lee Ames Frohlich, great-great-great granddaughter of Oakes Ames. Larry said to her that he felt that the monument should be a National Historic Landmark. They agreed to look into it further.
Larry began learning about what had to be done. It involved making numerous contacts and gathering many forms to fill in. Larry already had considerable knowledge of the area and the railroads. Anna Lee delved into the history of her family from early days up through the building of the Ames Monument.
They decided that it might help their quest to get inside the monument to document how it had been designed and built. An old workman’s tunnel had been closed since the mid 1980’s. Erosion had opened it in the 1940’s, and tourists and students had crawled inside, but the interior design had not been thoroughly documented. Finally they convinced the State of Wyoming to allow them inside but only for one day. With architects to help, the monument has now been measured and photographed for posterity. It has also been thoroughly sealed up to preserve it.
Shortly afterwards Wyoming’s State Historic Preservation Organization took over the project. This was just as well since much work and need for governmental knowledge lay ahead. During this time a committee worked on planning the new historical signs that now decorate the monument, and another committee chose the team that would write the story of the monument and present the case in Washington D.C. to have the Ames Monument made into a National Historic Landmark. It was a successful presentation.
So here we are now honoring and dedicating the monument for the second time. The celebration will begin on July 7, 2017 with a symposium of speakers and a dinner. July 8th will be the dedication itself with politicians and introductions and ribbon cutting.