By Sonja Caywood
As an artist I paint our last vestige of “the West,” as subjects thought to be permanent features of our landscape disappear. Asked to write about my favorite place in Sheridan County, I wanted to list several—artist Hans Kleiber brought friends to his “favorite place” in the Bighorns. After his death, folks realized with delight that Kleiber had many favorite places. I chose Sheridan’s Main Street because the history preserved in its architecture, signs and atmosphere appeals to me as an artist.
The concrete scrollwork, carved features and architectural flourishes on Main are a testament to a time when workmanship and beauty were essential—think of the penmanship of that era. Study trimmings around the doors that lead to upstairs apartments. We often walk by without a glance, but these details are worth seeking out. Speaking of doors, the arches at the Beaver Creek Saloon were once doorways through which horses pulled fire wagons when it was the Sheridan Fire Department. How cool is that?
Take Downtown Sheridan Association’s “Historic Downtown Walking Tour” with your smartphone, and learn the stories behind some of the structures on Main. Imagine the Cady Building with its third story as an opera house. I remember when the Custom Cowboy shop was where Bucking Buffalo Supply is today. My mom remembers the Cady building as the Helvey Hotel.
Many Main Street buildings were hotels, and several, like the Trail Hotel, Hotel Crescent, Hotel Rex and the Edwards Hotel, still have signage reflecting those days. I like to sit on downtown benches and imagine how they looked on the inside. I see high ceilings, thick wood trim, wood floors, iron beds and shared bathrooms. I picture electric trolleys running passengers up and down the Main Street rails.
Several of Sheridan’s Main Street businesses have been in the same location for many years. Some, like Sheridan Stationery and The Mint Bar, give history of their building and business on their websites.
People of Sheridan appreciate the beauty and history retained or restored in our Main Street architecture. As kids we saw movies at the filthy, run-down WYO Theater, then in the ‘80s, it was renovated to former glory. I like that they repainted “Brown Palace Bar” on the side of what was Ole’s Pizza when I was young, and is now AT&T on Main. I love that the hideous facade on what was “Gizmo’s” on South Main was removed, exposing brick with a blue Mansard roof and enormous windows, which remain covered at this writing. Replacing the tall streetlights with shorter, ornate, black iron ones brought the “old town” atmosphere back to Main Street in a major way. Tourists visit most historic districts, but renovations of upstairs living spaces, unique businesses and street festivals keep Sheridan’s Main Street culture alive with local residents as well.
The next time you walk down Main, search for remnants of the past in architectural details, the barely readable “ghost signs,” or the atmosphere of appreciating, preserving and celebrating its history that makes Sheridan’s historical Main Street one of my (many) favorite places.