North county museums work together

Museums in Hanna, Elk Mountain and Medicine Bow to co-host fundraising event

With a total of 10 museums, Carbon County has the most museums of any county in Wyoming.

These historical depositories range in size from the Grand Encampment Museum (GEM), which has thirty or so buildings with exhibits sometimes changing on a monthly basis, to Baggs and Elk Mountain which have one building to show off their history.

All museums depend on funding from grants and donations although, in the Little Snake River Valley and Saratoga, museum districts were formed. This gives a stream of revenue not afforded to the others in the county.

The Carbon County Museum and GEM do have some donors who give substantial funds to keep them operating. In the northern part of Carbon County, these type of donors don't really exist. The Hanna Basin Museum, the Elk Mountain Museum, and the Medicine Bow Museum all have supporters and small donors, but they do not bring in the funds of GEM.

Last year, during COVID-19 shutdown protocols, these three northern Carbon County museums took a major hit because the museums could not open to full capacity.

This year, grants are being scaled back and these three museums are looking for ways to sustain their operations.

The Hanna Basin Museum celebrates coal culture, railroads and ranching in the three buildings it has on premises. It only takes items to exhibit that have relevance to Hanna or the ghost town of Old Carbon. The museum is the site for a future interpretation center on the old Lincoln Highway.

The Elk Mountain Museum has artifacts from the days when it was a major crossing for the Overland Trail and its time of making tie-hacks was an essential industry to progress of the railroad as it spread west. Ranching also has its fair share of displays at this one building museum. Another building is planned to be built in the future.

The Medicine Bow Museum has items from the past when the town was a terminus for ranching and the railroad. Writer Owen Wister, famous for his novel, "The Virginian", has his summer cabin displayed on the site of the museum. Like Elk Mountain, it has a sheep wagon. The museum will be the site for then Fossil House when it is moved. It will then have three buildings located on its land.

All three museums are proud of what they offer to preserve the culture of the West but, coming from small towns, it is hard when funding gets tight.

Recently the three museums decided to band together to welcome back visitors before the summer ends. It is a partial fundraiser, with all monies raised split evenly among the museums. Many restaurants in Carbon County are donating finger food for the event. There is also a silent auction with items donated by merchants not only from the northern communities, but also Saratoga.

Medicine Bow Museum Director Sharon Baimon is heartened by all the support coming from businesses all over the country.

"History is so important in understanding how communities have survived and the way of life that was present when the West was being settled," Biamon said. "Sadly many people who live here take it for granted that these small museums will always be around. Unfortunately it takes funds to pay for utilities and upkeep of buildings. If residents don't support what we have, it is not impossible to have these treasures simply disappear."

The directors of the three museums are hopeful this welcoming party to visitors and residents alike will spur the interest of residents being proud of what these three museums have accumulated for future generations to see.

The event will be held at the Hanna Basin Museum for its inaugural year, the next year it will be held at one of the other museums. Llamas will be present get a picture with and old cars are on the agenda besides the food and silent auction.

All Hanna Basin Museum buildings will be open with food being distributed at all three locations along with items up for bid. The idea is to have visitors circulate and see what Hanna Basin has to offer. The other two museums will have tables showing off some items from their places.

The three museums compliment each other, all sharing items from when Old Carbon was the center of the region and the railroad was opening up the West.

"A visitor thinks nothing of spending a few hours at the museums of Grand Encampment and Savery in Little Snake River Valley," Biamon said. "Here in the north, with all museums being within 30 miles of each other, a real taste of Western culture unique to this area can be gleaned in the same amount of time. It is just time for people to remember we are here."

The Welcome Back to Museums event is on September 19 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Hanna Basin Museum.

"Without these museums a real loss of understanding of the culture from the West would occur," Biamon said. "That would be sad not only for Carbon County and Wyoming, but for the country."


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