When I travel, I love to stay at historic properties. You can learn a lot about a place if you get the chance to live its history, even if it’s in an abbreviated way. In May, I was exploring Casper, Wyoming and hadn’t quite found what I was looking for regarding accommodations. I expanded my search and found a listing (on AirBNB of all places) for a historic boutique hotel room 25 miles away. And it was available same-day! It felt right so I headed east for the town of Glenrock.
Glenrock sprung up at the Deer Creek Crossing of the Platte River, developing as a stage stop and trading post for the California-Oregon-Mormon Trail. Then came the Pony Express and the railroad. It was a modest settlement, but the discovery of oil in 1916 changed all that. The town’s population exploded from 200 to 5,000 within months. John E. Higgins, local rancher and legislator, saw an opportunity. He and his wife Josephine opened the Hotel Higgins on May 9, 1917.
The oil boom didn’t last, unfortunately. Josephine died in a car accident in 1924 and John passed away two years later. The hotel was tied up in estate dealings for nearly two decades before the property was sold. Even then, it never quite enjoyed the prosperous future that John Higgins imagined when the doors first opened. But – it is still open – and has served the area for over 100 years. It was added to the National Register in 1983.
The welcome sign when I entered town said POPULATION 2231. After a few minutes, I came to wonder if that number was inflated. The town seemed entirely deserted. I stopped in their downtown area to take photos of a neon sign (a beautiful, broken quill heralding the local paper) and didn’t see another soul. The hotel was right on the main road into town, but I’d missed it on the first pass. The big AVAILABLE property banner threw me off, I suppose.
The front door was emblazoned with stained glass bearing the words Paisley Shawl – the name of the on-site restaurant. Behind the door was a small antechamber which had parlors on each side and a far door to the main lobby. I figured I’d forge ahead first and then look around.
When I walked into the lobby, it felt like I’d traveled back in time. The first thing that struck me was that the hotel was as quiet as the rest of the town. I literally stopped after two footsteps just to listen. Not a sound, anywhere. I walked up to the front desk; nobody was there or in the side office. I rang the bell on the counter. The sound resonated off the walls but there was no other response. I wondered, not for the last time, if this place was haunted.
I snapped back into the 21st century and called the number on my e-mail reservation. A young man answered and said he would be at the desk shortly. I waited for a few minutes, looking at the historic photographs and original hotel paraphernalia scattered around the desk. The man appeared, apologized for the delay, and checked me in. I would be staying in Room 108 – The Gallatin Room. We talked briefly about the history of the hotel before he retreated to continue working on whatever project that had his attention. He was friendly enough – and although he didn’t say it, I knew: I was the only guest.
I wouldn’t see him again.
I settled into my room pretty quickly and had nothing to do except explore. The carpet-covered wooden floors in my room and the hallway creaked as I walked, amplifying the silence surrounding it. The creaking stopped in the main lobby, thanks to the terrazzo tile floors. It was beautifully furnished with antiques; the walls were accented with mahogany and the light fixtures were original. All in all, the place was in remarkable shape.
The restaurant and bar were closed. They only opened a few nights a week and a Tuesday night didn’t make sense. Still, I looked through the glass doors and could see each space set up and ready for a crowd that may or may not ever come. I had no way of knowing.
The western front parlor was a sitting room filled with vintage furniture and more antiques, making the space look like it had been untouched in a century. The eastern front parlor had a nice, big table and shelves full of board games. I went back to my room, grabbed a handful of postcards, and went into that parlor to write them out in the fading sunlight. I sat down without paying full attention; everything was covered in dust.
When I returned to my room, I decided to leave my door open for a while. After all, there was nobody else there and it helped circulate the air. No A/C in the building but the fan I found in my closet worked well enough provided it had enough air to work with. It didn’t take long for me to get tired; the bed was comfortable and it had been a long day on the road. I closed the door to my room and fell asleep before the sky fully darkened.
The next morning, I woke early and decided to get on the road quickly. I creaked my way into the lobby to find it as quiet and deserted as it had been the previous evening. I shrugged to myself and left The Higgins. A single car passed by as I loaded my rental car and mapped out my next destination. I left town well-rested but a little unsettled. It’s a feeling that has remained with me in the months since that quiet night in Glenrock.