When I worked for AlliedSignal in 1985, we visited South Pass City and Atlantic City after seeing a trona mine in Green River; Trona is nearly pure natural soda ash, and part was taken on a conveyor belt directly to Arm & Hammer to be ground up as baking soda. We went through South Pass again in 2000. I remembered seeing some mountain goats on the hillside, but didn’t think there was much more to see. But for some reason, Alie said she felt rushed on those trips and wanted to go back. We stayed a little longer in Lander to do that. As is often the case, she was dead right.
There still isn’t a lot to see in Atlantic City, but around 2002, Wyoming began to restore South Pass City as a historic site.
The two “towns” are mining sites, but South Pass City started as a stage and telegraph station on the Oregon Trail in the 1850s.
Atlantic City with a population today of “around 76” was a booming mining town in 1868. The boom soon went bust. A Frenchman tried new mining methods in the 1880s and early 1890s, but that too failed. The next boom came with the construction of a modern milling plant in the early 1900s, but that too failed. The biggest payout came from a dredging operation some distance away at Rock Creek (unfortunately before modern environmental conservation methods), but that too eventually played out. However, with the rise in gold prices, current owners are trying to “mine” the tailings that were left over in Rock Creek. That is not much benefit to Atlantic City. Today, most houses look like they are summer retreats for someone.
South Pass City did a little better. Gold was discovered in 1866, and the large Carissa Mine was opened in 1867 in addition to numerous small claims. The Carissa Mine played out in the 1870s. More modern technology allowed the mine to be reopened in the 1900s, and it was modernized and expanded in the winter of 1928-29. It opened and closed several times with new owners and fluctuating gold prices closing finally in 1949. Wyoming acquired it and designated it a historic site in 2003. The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places.
We spent more time than we expected walking through the restored buildings. There was the home of an early mine manager, just two timber extensions on the original stone-walled room dug out into the hill.
Another dugout, the “Cave,” had a massive thick stone front wall built in 1868 and was used to store perishable food and liquor. Oral tradition says it was also used as a defensive point against hostile Indians.
A 1911 school has an outhouse with side-by-side two level seating, the upper seat for adults and a shorter seat for children.
A recreation of E. Archibald Slack’s shack which burned in 1871 has the original press he printed the South Pass News. Outside was a monument to local resident Esther Morris, the first woman Justice of the Peace in the world. The monument credits her with authorship of the legislation that gave Wyoming women the right to vote, the first in the nation. Later research showed she probably was not as responsible as the legislator, W. H. Bright, who acted with the urging of his wife. Just as interesting to us was a poster inside the shack showing the first woman to vote and a re-election poster for the first woman Governor.
Further along the street is the 1868 South Pass Hotel and Restaurant. Rooms were ventilated by a hole in the wall above the doors and only one bedroom had heat. As with all the buildings, great attention has been given to detail. I chose the restaurant dining room as a good example.
In all, there are twenty-four buildings inside the historic site. Just outside is the first Masonic Lodge in Wyoming, now South Pass City Mercantile. It all was certainly far more than I expected when we started down the road.