ROCK SPRINGS — Preserving the natural beauty of the Rock Springs Historical Museum continues to be a priority. However, finding the funding to help pay for the needed improvements can take a long time.
Rock Springs Historical Museum Director Jennifer Messer said that while the museum needs a lot of improvements, the focus is on making sure the exterior is secure and sealed.
Back in 1989-1990 the museum underwent a massive $1.7 million renovation, which was mostly paid for through Abandoned Mine Reclamation funds.
“They did a beautiful job 30 years ago,” Messer said.
That work has held up nicely, but both the exterior and interior of the building are in need of some improvements.
The building was constructed in 1894 for $28,200 and thankfully the foundation is solid and the building hasn’t had a lot of structural problems, Messer said. However, since the outside of the building was constructed with natural sandstone it is prone to cracking and wear. It’s been 30 years since the last major renovation and the sandstone is falling apart and some of it is getting weathered away, Messer said.
While the roof was replaced about 10 to 15 years ago and is still in pretty good shape modifications had to be done to make sure water would flow properly through the gutters. At one point, water was pouring into the inside of the museum during a rainstorm due to some drainage issues, but that’s been taken care of.
Messer said the museum obtained a National Park Service Main Street Façade Improvement Grant to patch all of the major cracks in the sandstone and fill in some of the worn out spots. That work took place in June of 2022 by Hydro-Tech Inc. While working on the project, the masons themselves couldn’t believe how old the building was and wanted to preserve it as best they could.
“We still have a lot to do on the outside repairs,” Messer said. There’s damage to replace and sandstone to seal, however the work Hydro-Tech Inc., completed will prevent the worst parts from getting even worse.
“They did a really good job,” Messer said. “It looks really good.”
Not only does the museum have a challenge finding funding to complete the projects, but people to do the work. Due to the unique features, the age of the building, and the fact that the building is on the National Historic Register, not just any stone mason can work on the structure. Messer said there are not a lot of stone masons to start with and so they were delighted to find Hydro-Tech Inc.
Once the outside of the building is done, then the focus will turn to the inside. There are several areas inside that have water damage, especially on the lath and plaster. Messer said she would also like to see the inside receive a fresh coat of paint and some new carpet. The current carpet is around 35 years old and is worn in places from all of the foot traffic the museum receives every year. Around 20 percent of the glass and woodwork remaining is original, Messer said. The woodwork is in need up some new stain, but many cannot tell where the original woodwork ends and the replica begins.
Over the years, the museum has served the community in many ways, from the city hall, fire department, and jail to much more fun things such as a dance hall and a school. It still remains the focal point of the city and is often portrayed in magazines and on postcards. It’s fitting a building that has gone through so much of the town’s history became the resting place for historic documents, objects, and exhibits.
“It’s really the anchor of downtown,” Messer said. “It’s in really good shape for its age.”
“I’m so glad that they really did take care of this building and the city has continued to have it as a building,” Messer said.
Messer said visitors often compliment her and the other employees on how unique and historical the building itself is.
For now, the city and museum will continue to work together and keep applying for grants to try and obtain the funding needed to continue repairs to the building. It will cost millions to repair the building, but each grant they receive brings them closer to the goal of keeping this historical building a beautiful focal point of the community.